Ethiopia Diverts the Blue Nile to Egypt’s Dismay

Written by Richard Greenan on 12 June 2013

The flow of the Blue Nile is set to be diverted by the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), much to the chagrin of water-starved and Nile-dependent Egypt, the Press Association has reported. The contract for the hydroelectric dam, costing in the region of £3.1bn, was awarded to Italian firm Salini Construttori without competitive bidding. The project is part of a larger, export-boosting investment programme, which will cost around £8bn.

The GERD will be located on the Blue Nile approximately 500km north west of Addis Abba. It will be the largest dam in Africa, at 1,800 metres long, 170 metres high, and with a total volume of 10m cubic metres. Two powerhouses will be installed at the toe of the main dam – which will consist of roller compacted concrete. These powerhouses will be located on the right and left banks of the river, and will contain 16 Francis turbine units. Their total installed capacity will reach 6,000MW, with a generation capacity totalling 15,000 Gwh/y. Completing the project layout, a 5km long, 50m high saddle dam, along with a concrete-lined gated spillway, will sit on the left bank.

Countries downstream of the Nile are less than happy about the news. Egypt and Sudan have claimed the dam will violate a 1959 that gives Egypt almost 70% of the total water in the Nile. Ethiopian deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonnin, however, has reportedly declared that the dam will provide hydroelectricity for Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries as well as itself.

Mekonnin also stated that the colonial-era agreement ignores the needs of five up-river states, and that the dam will not affect Egypt. Ethiopia claims to be the source of some 85% of Nile River waters.

Chief executive officer of the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, Mihret Debebe, said: “The dam is being built in the middle of the river so you can’t carry out construction work while the river flowed.” Debebe continued, “this now enables us to carry out civil engineering work without difficulties. The aim is to divert the river by a few metres and then allow it to flow on its natural course.”

The Grand Renaissance Dam will be situated in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, which borders Sudan. The Ethiopian government claims that when running it will provide a 6,000 megawatt capacity – the equivalent of six or more nuclear power plants.

Categories: Energy and water