Friday, October 18, 2013

Ethiopian dam plans spark regional tensions

Rehad Abd Almohsen in A group of Egyptian academics and experts have declared their opposition to the current plans for the US$4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — on which work has started, and which will be Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant when completed — because they believe it will damage their country.

Egypt's Nile Basin Group was set up to assess the possible threat from the dam, which will lie close to Ethiopia's border with Sudan. Its members warn that the structure could slash the Nile's flow, especially in Egypt and Sudan, which depend on the river's waters.

Haider Yusuf Bakheit, a Sudanese hydrologist, was reported in an article in Infrastructure News as saying that the dam "will hold back nearly one-and-a-half times the average annual flow" of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile's two main tributaries, and "drastically affect the downstream nations' agriculture, electricity and water supply".

"Given the massive size of the dam, it could lose as much as three billion cubic metres of water to evaporation each year," he warned.

There was alarm in Egypt when the plan to build the dam was announced in 2011  — with some MPs talking off the record about Egypt's right to retaliate militarily — but much of the opposition now focuses on Ethiopia's decision to increase the size of the reservoir behind the dam.

"The original plan was to create a lake that would store 14 billion cubic metres of water, which is enough to generate electricity, but then the lake's capacity was increased to 74 billion cubic metres," Nader Noureddin, a member of the Nile Basin Group and professor of soil and water resources at Cairo University, tells SciDev.Net. Planned electricity output has also risen, from 5,250 to 6,000 megawatts...

A dam over the Blue Nile north of Addis Ababa, shot by Adam Jones, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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