Ethiopia's leader hails 1st filling of massive, disputed dam

This combination image made from satellite images taken on Friday, June 26, 2020, above, and Sunday, July 12, 2020, below, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. New satellite imagery shows the reservoir behind Ethiopia's disputed hydroelectric dam beginning to fill, but an analyst says it's likely due to seasonal rains instead of government action. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
This combination image made from satellite images taken on Friday, June 26, 2020, above, and Sunday, July 12, 2020, below, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. New satellite imagery shows the reservoir behind Ethiopia's disputed hydroelectric dam beginning to fill, but an analyst says it's likely due to seasonal rains instead of government action. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday hailed the first filling of a massive dam that has led to tensions with Egypt, saying two turbines will begin generating power next year.

Abiy Ahmed’s statement, read out on state media outlets, came a day after he and the leaders of Egypt and Sudan reported progress on an elusive agreement on the operation of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the largest in Africa.

The first filling of the dam’s reservoir, which Ethiopia’s government attributes to heavy rains, “has shown to the rest of the world that our country could stand firm with its two legs from now onwards,” Abiy’s statement said. "We have successfully completed the first dam filling without bothering and hurting anyone else. Now the dam is overflowing downstream.”

The dam will reach full power generating capacity in 2023, the statement said: “Now we have to finish the remaining construction and diplomatic issues.”

Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday said the countries had reached a “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement.”

Meanwhile, new satellite images showed the water level in the reservoir at its highest in at least four years, adding fresh urgency to the talks.

Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir this month even without a deal as the rainy season floods the Blue Nile. But the Tuesday statement said leaders agreed to pursue “further technical discussions on the filling ... and proceed to a comprehensive agreement.”

The dispute centers on the use of the storied Nile River, a lifeline for all involved.