Ethiopia started to divert the flow of the Blue Nile river to construct a giant dam on Tuesday, according to its state media, in a move that could impact the Nile-dependent Egypt.

The official Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnin as telling officials at a ceremony diverting flow at the dam construction site that the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will provide hydroelectricity, not only for Ethiopia but also for neighbouring countries.

Colonial-era agreement

Downstream nations Egypt and Sudan have objected to the construction, saying it violates a colonial-era agreement which gives Egypt nearly 70 per cent of Nile River waters.

Egypt says its population of 90 million is among the largest in Africa and that unlike other Nile Basin countries, it does not have readily available alternative water sources.

Ethiopia says the dam will not affect Egypt and that the 1959 agreement ignores the needs of five upriver countries. Some 84 per cent of the water from the world’s longest river originates in Ethiopia.

The Blue Nile is one of two major tributaries of the river. The White Nile, flowing through Sudan, is the other.

Egypt’s presidency said on Tuesday that it was awaiting a report by the Tripartite Nile Basin Committee, comprised of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, to determine its next steps. President Mohammed Morsy’s spokesman downplayed concerns from the move, saying it will not have a negative impact on the amount of Nile water reaching Egypt. — AP