Ethiopian government officials this week celebrated the diversion of the Blue Nile river for what they’ve dubbed the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which is expected to provide hydroelectricity for Ethiopia and neighboring countries by 2015.
But downstream nations Egypt and Sudan are troubled by the huge hydropower dam going up on the Sudanese border. Planning stages of the project were shrouded in secrecy, much to the alarm of regional governments, Nile planning agencies and Ethiopia’s Western donors. There was no expert analysis that would normally accompany such a titanic project, remarked Sudanese hydrologist Haydar Yousif.
“No environmental assessment is publicly available for the project. And no steps were taken before its launch to openly discuss the dam’s impacts with downstream Nile neighbors Egypt and Sudan,” he said.
“The consequences for Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors could potentially be catastrophic,” Yousif wrote in a published analysis. “The Renaissance Dam’s reservoir will hold back nearly one and a half times the average annual flow of the Blue Nile. Filling the reservoir – which could take 3 to 5 years – will drastically affect the downstream nations’ agriculture, electricity and water supply. Evaporative losses from the dam’s reservoir could be as much as 3 billion cubic metres per year.”
“In addition, the retention of silt by the dam reservoir will dramatically reduce the fertility of soils downstream. Sediment-free water released from dams also increases erosion downstream, which can lead to riverbed deepening and a reduction in groundwater recharge.”
Further, the dam is in a quake zone and could be at risk from damage by earthquakes, yet no one knows if it has even been analysed for this risk. The failure of such a huge structure puts the more than 100 million people living downstream at risk.
“Whatever the outcome of political arbitration, it remains irresponsible for Ethiopia to build Africa’s biggest hydropower project, on its most contentious river, with no public access to critical information about the dam’s impacts – a flawed process which can hardly result in a sustainable project,” said Yousif.
“If the Ethiopian government is serious about maintaining good relations with its Nile neighbors, and if it truly wishes to develop projects that will carry its people and the broader region into prosperity, it must begin by allowing some light to penetrate this secretive development scheme.”