By William Davison -
Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt agreed to examine the regional impact of a $4.2 billion dam being built on a Nile river tributary in Ethiopia after experts said earlier studies were inconclusive.
A meeting of water ministers and delegates in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Nov. 4 will discuss conducting a new study of the hydropower project’s downstream effect and more detailed appraisals of its environmental and social impact, said Fekahmed Negash, head of the Ethiopian Water Ministry’s Boundary and Transboundary Rivers Affairs Directorate.
The 6,000-megawatt Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, set to be Africa’s largest when completed in 2017, has raised concern in Cairo that it will reduce the flow of the Nile, which provides almost all of Egypt’s water.
In a June report, a group of international experts said Ethiopia’s analysis of the dam’s impact was “very basic, and not yet at a level of detail, sophistication and reliability that would befit a development of this magnitude, importance and with such regional impact.”
Next month’s meeting “will be on the way forward on the implementation of the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts,” Fekahmed said Oct. 18 by phone from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
As suggested by the panel, which included two specialists from each country and four international experts, the assessment will weigh the impact of other Ethiopian dams planned on the Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia and is the largest tributary of the Nile, Fekahmed said.
Ethiopia is the source of 86 percent of the water that flows into the Nile, the world’s longest river that runs 4,160 miles (6,700 kilometers) through 11 countries from Burundi in the south to Egypt, where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Ethiopia has said it will take five to six years to fill the 74 billion cubic-meter (2.6 trillion cubic-feet) reservoir created by the dam.
Ethiopia won’t stop construction of the dam, which will produce electricity partly for export, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters in Addis Ababa. The project can benefit the region if all sides show “political commitment” to it, he said Oct. 4.
Sudan backs the dam, which will “bring many benefits and blessings for us,” Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said in June.
Concerns raised by the panel about the structure of the dam being built in western Ethiopia, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Sudanese border, have been addressed by contractor Salini Costruttori SpA, according to Fekahmed. The Rome-based company is able to adjust its design during construction as it has a contract to manage the entire project, he said.
The panel’s call to assess the stability of the rocks on which the foundations of the main dam and an auxiliary dam will rest was a “reminder” to Salini to “take care of this in the design,” Gideon Asfaw, an Ethiopian civil engineer who sat on the panel, said in an interview.
“Whatever you find there is an engineering solution to it,” he said in Addis Ababa on Oct. 11. “There is no cause for alarm regarding the geological formation or the foundation design.”
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