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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: A new chapter in Ethiopia’s history

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The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) shows that Ethiopia is on the right track to make its dream come true: accelerating the national development to eradicate poverty, achieve economical well-being and attain the status of being a middle-income country by 2025.

This hydroelectric flagship project will massively contribute to these goals. The construction of the GERD has reached 47 percent and work on the project will continue day and night until completion.

The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the first largest in Africa and the tenth largest hydropower dam in the world with its 1,780 meters length and 145 meters height. Its completion will change the face of East African power infrastructure: it is estimated to have the potential to generate 6,000 MW, which is equivalent to the combined power of 4 nuclear reactors. By 2016, two turbines of the dam will start to generate about 750 MW of electricity.

The GERD hydropower project is at the center of Ethiopia’s development strategy. It will provide cheap and abundant electricity to the booming manufacturing sector of the country where the electricity demand is growing by more than 20 percent each year.

Combined with a vast, cheap and trainable labour force, robust infrastructure development, peace and political stability, a strategic location and gateway to Africa, this energy achievement will considerably boost the manufacturing capacity and attractiveness of Ethiopia. Furthermore, this new electricity production facility will enable Ethiopia to export cheap electricity to its neighboring countries. This will have a positive effect on regional integration and development in the region.

Apart from power generation, advantages of the dam for downstream countries include: avoiding flood that has huge damage in lower riparian countries, excessive sediments and maintaining a regular and sustainable flow of water with less evaporations which is vital for the irrigation projects in the lower riparian countries.

The dam will be capable of handling a flood of 19,370 cubic meters per second. By creating a lake twice the size Lake Tana of Ethiopia, it will provide immense opportunities for local communities through fishing and tourism potential and will have a huge impact on the ecology of the region. Most importantly, the Dam will boost the cooperation and mutual understanding between riparian countries.

GERD has enjoyed a tremendous support from all the people of Ethiopia at home and from Ethiopian origins living abroad, as well as upper and lower riparian countries including the Sudan since the beginning of the work in 2011. The construction of this flagship project started in 2011, and is expected to be completed by 2017. Its total cost is estimated at USD 4.7 billion, and is financed by Ethiopia itself.

The construction is carried out by the Italian firm Salini Impregilo. The French company Alstom has been entrusted with the supply of turbines and generators. The sub contract of work of the project is owned by the Ethiopian Metal and Engineering corporation (MEtEC) firms. The grand project is therefore also being used as a means of technological transfer to the Ethiopian domestic experts.

Ethiopia has a hydropower potential of 45,000 MW which remains largely untapped resources. The country however has already planned and achieved the construction of several other hydropower facilities. Plants constructed in the last ten years include Tekeze (300 MW, completed in 2009), Gilgel Gibe II (420 MW, completed in 2010) and Tana Belese (460 MW). Gilgel Gibe III (1,970 MW) is 100% complete and began to generate power in October 2015, increasing Ethiopia’s power generation capacity by 234 percent.

Regional cooperation

Ethiopia took an unprecedented initiative to establish an International Panel of Experts (IPOE) from the three riparian countries and international experts from other three countries from Germany, South Africa and France, to study the impact of the dam on the downstream countries. The findings of the panel of experts concluded that the dam will not have a significant impact on the downstream countries.

Despite concerns raised by Egypt about its water shares, a major step towards more regional cooperation around the dam was taken on 23 March 2015 in Khartoum, when the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principle on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam project. “We could cooperate and accomplish great things or disagree and hurt each other… we have chosen to cooperate,” the Egyptian President El-Sisi stated at this occasion. On his side, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn stressed that the Renaissance Dam will not cause any significant harm to the Egyptian people: Egypt and the rest of the Nile Basin countries are one family, he said. The Nile Basin Initiative, a regional organization founded in 1999 aiming at improving the dialogue around questions concerning the Nile, congratulated the three countries for this achievement.

In order guarantee a strong and continued dialogue, tripartite ministerial meetings were organized between Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese representatives at ministerial and experts level, In this framework, it was agreed that a tripartite technical committee was to meet regularly to assess technical aspects of the project. Among other prerogatives, the Tripartite technical committee selected the French BRL group and Dutch Deltares consultancy firms in April 2015 to conduct a study on the environmental and hydraulic consequences of the dam. The results of the study will be binding.

On 20 and 21 August 2015, the tripartite committee of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan met in Addis Ababa. The committee discussed the latest developments regarding the undelivered reports from the French BRL group and Dutch Deltares consultancy firm on the dam. The tripartite committee met in order to set a new deadline for the French BRL group and Dutch Deltares consultancy firm to complete their report. The next tripartite meeting, initially scheduled for beginning of October, is expected to take place soon.

In September 2015, the Dutch Deltares consultancy firm withdrew its participation from the assessment process. In an email to the Egyptian media Ahram Hebdo, the consultancy firm said it concluded that the conditions imposed by the Tripartite National Committee and the French consultancy firm BRL did not provide sufficient guarantees for Deltares that an independent high-quality study could be carried out. “Deltares regrets that it has to withdraw from these challenging studies as its knowledge, expertise and experience in the region fits quite well with this complex and economically important project,” the consultancy firm further said.

The withdrawal of the Dutch Deltares consultancy firm will not affect the continued engagement and on the study of the environmental and hydraulic impact assessments of the dam. Almost seventy percent of the study is undertaken by the French BRL group. The government of Ethiopia is convinced GERD will play a major role for the regional integration, for the benefit of the peoples of all the riparian countries and is committed to find a win-win solution for all countries.

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