İrem UZUN -TDO- New satellite imagery shows the reservoir behind Ethiopia’s megaproject called the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam beginning to fill. Although analysts say it’s likely due to seasonal rains instead of government action, Ethiopian water minister said the country started filling the dam on Wednesday after talks with Sudan and Egypt over the structure became deadlocked.

The $4.5 billion dam has been under construction for nine years, and once operational, will be the largest hydroelectric power plant on the African continent, capable of producing 6.4 gigawatts of power. But the project has generated opposition from fellow Nile River countries Egypt and Sudan who fear it will affect their access to fresh water. Reuters reported on Tuesday that the talks hosted by the African Union between the three nations failed to reach a consensus as Ethiopia moves forward with its intentions.

Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter.  “The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” water minister Seleshi Bekele said in comments broadcast on television. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and a booming population of 100 million with freshwater, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat. Experts fear that filling the dam without a deal could push the countries to the brink of military conflict.

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