Ethiopia urges Nile nations to deal opposed by Egypt

Ethiopia used a regional meeting Thursday aimed to promote cooperation over the Nile river to urge other nations to ratify a controversial water deal fiercely opposed by Egypt.

Addressing water ministers and officials from the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Ethiopia's Minister for Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu challenged Egypt's historical majority control usage of the river water.

"We will not allow a single country to have full control over our shared resources," Alemayehu said, speaking at the annual NBI conference held in Juba, the capital of its newest member South Sudan.

The countries have been embroiled in a heated row after Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile River last month for the construction of the 6,000 megawatt Grand Renaissance Dam, sparking concern in Cairo about the impact on downstream water levels.

Ethiopia's parliament last week was the first to ratify the NBI's Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), a deal that replaces a colonial-era agreement that granted Egypt and Sudan the majority of water rights.

It allows upstream countries to implement irrigation and hydropower projects without first seeking Egypt's approval.

"It is therefore my duty to call on all countries of the basin to finalise the process of ratification as soon as possible," Alemayehu said, adding it was a "very critical time in the history of the Nile basin."

Egypt and Sudan have not signed the agreement.

But in addition to Ethiopia, five other upstream nations have signed -- Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Democratic Republic of Congo and newly independent South Sudan have said they also would like to sign, although the deadline to ink the CFA deal expired in 2011.

The deal would come into effect once ratified by six states, but it is not clear how it would impact those states who choose to remain outside.

Ethiopia is building the $4.2 billion (3.2 billion euro) Grand Renaissance Dam in order to generate electricity, including for export to neighbouring countries.

Ethiopia insists it will not hamper downstream flows.

It is set to become Africa's biggest hydroelectric dam, with completion earmarked for 2017, and is being funded entirely from internal resources.

Politics over Nile waters are complex, with its basin including 10 countries and the river travelling some 6,695 kilometres (4,160 miles) from headwaters in Rwanda and Burundi to the Mediterranean, according to NBI.