By Yonas Abiye
Addis Ababa, March 30, 2011 (Ezega.com) -- Disregarding the pressure and warning from Egypt, the Ethiopian government officially announced the commencement of an almost 80 billion Birr grand dam project that could generate over 5,200 MW hydroelectric powers on Blue Nile River.
According to Ethiopian officials, the country has a plan quintupling the country’s hydro-electric power supply by raising the present capacity to 10,000 MW in the coming five years.
“The bulk of this five-fold increase is expected to inter the national grid from Nile dam the construction of which is scheduled to commence soon,” Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu told press conference here at Addis Ababa.
Hitherto only known as project X, the project to be named Millennium Dam is slated to be built in Benishangul region 20 to 40 Km east of the Sudanese border which is expected to generate 5250 MW.
The Minister said that the dam will also benefit Egypt and Sudan from parallel advantages of the project in the form of decreased siltation in their irrigation dams, decline in the frequency of flooding and there by reduction of water-resource wastage.
According to the minister, the new dam, upon completion, is expected to hold 62 billion metric cube of water which almost as twice as Lake Tana.
The Millennium dam projects is estimated to cost around 70 to 80 billion Birr (USD 4.5 billion) and it is expected to be completed in 44 months.
The Ethiopian government has been downplaying the possible adverse effect that a dam could have on lower Nile riparian sates, Egypt and Sudan, and it hit back fears expressed by Egyptian officials as “unsubstantiated”.
“Since the dam site is a very low level and deep gorge, minimal water evaporation is expected. This is a much lower level as compared to the Jabel Awlia dam in the Sudan, and Aswan Dam which lies in the scorching desert heat of Egypt,” Alemayehu added.
He further noted that Ethiopia is forced to cover all the financial need of the project due to Egypt’s influence on potential loan and aid to Ethiopia from international financiers.
“Although Ethiopia is not the only beneficiary, but all the downstream countries, the cost nonetheless is entirely covered by the Ethiopian Government. Ethiopia is forced to shoulder the financial burden of this huge project due to Egypt’s long standing uncooperative stance. The leadership has always operated on an untenable assumption of zero-sum game logic where any development on the Nile River ipso facto is deemed detrimental to Egypt,” Alemayehu said.
“Yet, using its standing in multilateral financial institutions and donor community, the Egyptian leadership constantly campaigns to block any provision of loans and grants to Ethiopian intended to development projects cantered on Nile river,” Alemayehu explained and adding, “the Ethiopian government believes that damming the Nile River is vital to meet the country’s electricity needs just as it is bound to benefit the downstream countries.
Alemayehu also issued a warning message to the downstream countries to stop any attempt to hider Ethiopia’s development efforts.
“It must be pointed out that certain forces that have historically been adverse to Ethiopia’s effort to develop its water resources aught to abandon their counter-development policy.”
Alemayehu also sent a clear message particularly to Egypt, labeling it “an obstacle of Ethiopian development”.
Reports from Egypt indicate the North African country is alarmed over Ethiopian plans to construct more hydroelectric dams. Cairo fears that such changes could translate into much lower water levels in Egypt.
Ethiopia stepped up its plans after Burundi joined the May 2010 treaty, the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework, signed in Entebe, Uganda, which seeks to ensure a new and equitable water sharing agreement, ending Egypt’s historical control over the Nile water.
So far, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have signed the treaty, putting pressure on Egypt and Sudan, who enjoy more than 90 per cent of Nile waters.
Ethiopia is the main source of Blue Nile as it contributes 85% of the Nile water.
Ethiopian officials declined to disclose the contractor who will handle the overall construction and engineering work. However here in Ethiopian local media speculation is growing that Ethiopian government has already awarded the project construction to Italian multinational company, Salini Costruttori, which built the Gilgel Gibe II and Tana Beles dams.
Yonas Abiye is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. He can be reached by sending email through this form.