Ethiopia completes third filling of controversial Blue Nile mega-dam
Image credit: Foto 247735783 © habte zewge | Dreamstime.com
The country has already begun producing electricity from the second turbine of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), despite opposition from downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has confirmed the country has completed the third filling of its mega-dam reservoir on the Blue Nile.
The statement follows shortly after the announcement that the dam's second turbine had begun producing electricity. The decision was made in spite of Egypt and Sudan's continuing objections to the project, and their protests to the UN Security Council.
"Today as you see behind me, the third filling is complete," Abiy announced on national television. "Compared to last year, we have reached 600 metres, which is 25 metres higher than the previous filling. The Nile is a gift of God given to us for Ethiopians to make use of it."
The $4.2bn (£3.4bn) mega-dam is set to be the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa. However, the project has been the subject of a decades-long dispute ever since Ethiopia began construction in 2011 without reaching an international consensus. The tragic 2018 death of GERD’s head of engineering, Simegnew Bekele, whose body was found in his parked car, remains controversial to this day.
Ethiopia considers the dam essential for the electrification and development of the country, which has Africa's second-largest population. However, Cairo and Khartoum view the dam as a threat and fear the consequences of granting Ethiopia control over their water resources.
Both Sudan and Egypt are heavily reliant on the Nile river. About 97 per cent of the water Egypt uses for irrigation and drinking purposes comes from the river.
The three countries have held many talks in recent decades regarding the project, but no agreement has been reached.
The process of filling the GERD's vast reservoir began in 2020. Currently, the two turbines, out of a total of 13, have a capacity to generate 750MW of electricity, but the project is only 83 per cent complete, according to project manager Kifle Horo.
Last month, Egypt wrote to the UN Security Council to register its "objection and complete rejection" of Ethiopia's continuation of filling the Renaissance Dam "unilaterally". The country's Foreign Ministry added that Egypt maintains its “legitimate right… to take all necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security, including against any risks that Ethiopia's unilateral measures may cause in the future”.
On Thursday, Abiy called for negotiations regarding the dam to reach an understanding, stressing that any other option "will not stop what we have started and will be futile". He also insisted that the third filling would not cause any water shortages downstream.
"We have repeatedly told downstream countries, especially Egypt and Sudan, that by generating power we're developing our economy, as well as (our desire) to see our citizens who live in the dark see light," he said.
Ethiopia aims to complete the damn in the next two and a half years. Once the three turbines are in operation, the GERD is expected to achieve a total capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, which will allow it to more than double Ethiopia's current energy output.
In a 2020 investigation, E&T revealed that both Egypt and Ethiopia have influenced public opinion regarding the debate, creating disinformation and manipulation campaigns that could make it more difficult to resolve disagreements between the nations involved.
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