Egypt furious over secret Ethiopian Nile dams

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi FILE | AFRICA REVIEW 

Egyptian authorities are furious over new plans by the Ethiopian Government to construct three giant hydro power dams on the Blue Nile.

The angry Egyptians plan to send a team to discuss the issue with the Ethiopia despite the latter’s insistence the plan was not intended to harm Egypt.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently hinted his government planned to use more of the Nile waters for development activities in the drought-prone country, which is the second most populous in Africa.

Mr Meles said in the next one month the new hydro-dam projects will be inaugurated.

The Blue Nile provides over 80 per cent of the Nile waters and its flow is therefore a matter of life and death for Egypt.

"We are planning to carry out a number of important projects, including a major project on the Nile," Mr Meles told reporters.

However, the document obtained by Africa Review from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) mentioned unpublicised new dams set for construction, that will be inaugurated in the Western Ethiopia region of Benshangul Gumuz, just 40km east from Sudanese border.

Ethiopia plans to generate 6,000MW of electricity from the new dams, whose construction may take five to 10 years. The document does not mention specific details.

Won the contract

As per the government plan, the country targets a total capacity of some 15,000MW of power within 10 years at an investment cost of more than $12 billion.

The government is desperately looking for financing for the projects and negotiations are underway with China and India for soft loans.

The Italian construction firm Salini Costruttori has already won the contract.

Ethiopian State minister for Foreign Affairs Birhane Gebrekirstos has insisted his country would try its best to use the Nile waters for development and hydro power dams without, somehow, reducing the flow of the water.

"It must be noted that the river has more to offer than the demands of the riparian countries," he said.

In a highly symbolic move last year, Egypt switched the Nile docket from the Irrigation ministry to the Interior ministry, which handles national security matters.

According to local media reports, Egypt’s security establishment was ready to thwart a recent pact on Nile water use signed by riparian countries.

They want to maintain Egypt’s traditional lion’s share of the water quota as enshrined in a 1959 colonial agreement.

Uncertain period

Despite being one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, Ethiopia uses less than 2 per cent of the Nile water yet it contributed the overwhelming flow to Sudan and Egypt.

Apart from meeting home demand, Ethiopia wants to export some of the hydro power to Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya.

In the long term, it plans to export electricity to Egypt and Israel as well.

In December 2010, Ethiopia inaugurated the underground Tana Beles hydro dam on the Blue Nile, with a generating capacity of 420MW.

The dam sparked a sharp row between Ethiopia and Egypt. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak even appealed to Italy to cut funding for Ethiopia’s hydro power dams.

According to analysts, Ethiopia, and possibly Uganda, were seeking to capitalise on uncertain period following the downfall of Mubarak to intensify their own plans for the Nile.

Uganda is also on target to generate 17,000MW in the next 15 years.

Ethiopia announced its plans after Burundi became the sixth riparian signatory to endorse the recent Nile pact on equitable water sharing, which was negotiated for 10 years under the Nile Basin Initiative. Egypt and Sudan remain the only countries opposed.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has yet to signed up.

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