Ethiopia is moving closer to its vision of becoming the power tower of East Africa with the accelerated construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Such a vision could play a critical role in consolidating the unity of the people in the region. Yet, there is a mistrust within the downstream countries that needs to be siphoned off before the unity can be realised.
The second anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was colourfully celebrated at the Yidnekachew Tessema Stadium, on Ras Desta Dametew Street, last weekend, three days prior to the actual date. High ranking officials and invited guests were present making the ceremony more dignified.
The program was structured to generate excitement for spectators by running bizarre competitions, such as; races between athletes and their partners and a football match between musicians and comedians. These entertaining activities were, however, only distantly expressed sentiments; they were interspersed with vows and solemn promises to go as far as it takes to complete the construction of the Dam. The heart of the project was in progress hundreds of kilometres away, in Benshangul Regional State, in the western part of the country.
Over 5,000 men and women are sweating at the project site, round the clock, braving the scorching temperatures. Over 1,000 pieces of machinery have been deployed and are active there, digging and moving soil and rock.
Every single day counts, and adds to the work of the previous day. Two solid years have elapsed and an aggregate of 18pc of the project has been accomplished. This gives some indication as to how much work has yet to be done, in order to finalise the project.
For a country like Ethiopia, and its hard working people, there is nothing more important than freeing its people from the bondage of poverty and backwardness. These challenges have to be faced squarely. Thus, generating power from renewable energy sources is not only an environmentally-friendly undertaking to fight against poverty, but also a stepping stone towards prosperity.
At present, the country is engaged in the construction of renewable energy projects that would eventually generate a total of 155,000Mw. Its hydropower energy generation potential stands at 45,000Mw. From its water resources, Ethiopia hopes to knit eastern Africa together, electrically.
History tells us that Ethiopians had to wait for Portuguese explorers before building a bridge to cross the Blue Nile, although the idea of changing its course was meant to scare the Egyptians, according to legend. Modern time Ethiopian leaders, including the monarchy, in cooperation with experts from friendly countries of the Nile Basin, had conducted different studies in an attempt to fairly utilise the potential of the great water source.
The 10 riparian countries of the Nile river have, over the years, held several conferences and tried to come up with some kind of a comprehensive solution to ensure that the Nile River waters could be put to equitable use. The agreements signed in 1929 and 1959, between Sudan and Egypt, on the rights and percentages of water sharing, were exclusive agreements that left aside the other riparian countries.
Until recently, however, many Ethiopians were not aware of the principles that conventionally govern the management of cross-border rivers. They did not even know that the Blue Nile, which contributes over 85pc of the Nile River, had been flowing downstream from time immemorial, crossing the arid zone for thousands of kilometres to the Sudan and Egypt where civilization began on its banks.
Ethiopians fully recognise what the River means to the people of Egypt and Sudan. We also know the problems the two downstream countries suffer from, including the occasional floods and silages and the massive loss of water through evaporation time out.
The GERD targets not only generating hydropower, but also ensuring the regular flow of water past its turbine. It will also minimise evaporation loss, whilst significantly reducing the annual flood and silage.
The GERD will perhaps be the biggest dam on the continent and one of the 10 prominent ones in the world. So far, 170 expatriate experts from 40 different countries have been deployed as part of its construction.
The project, however, is an indigenous one, in every aspect of the word, be it in expertise or financing. To date, the huge diversion culvert has been put into use and design works for the transmission lines of high tension power are nearing completion.
Ethiopia currently generates over 2,000Mw of hydropower. The country has already started exporting hydropower to Djibouti and is also undertaking projects to sell power to Kenya and Sudan. This is a pragmatic action that scales up unity among East African countries.
The GERD will also bring several cumulative backward and forward linkage implications. In this respect, the recognition, by the majority of riparian countries, of Ethiopia’s sincere and unflinching efforts to explain the need for an equitable share of water, has been commendable.
The project has also reflected the commitment by all Ethiopians, irrespective of differences in gender, ethnicity, religion or occupation. The rich and the poor have both placed their footprints on the construction of the Dam. What we heard from the messages delivered last Tuesday was a message of rededication.
Ethiopia, in its effort to eradicate poverty, has embarked on focusing on the development of manufacturing industries. This sector is believed to accelerate rapid growth in other sectors as well. Generation of power, therefore, becomes an important factor that could aid the realisation of the transformation aspirations within the shortest possible period of time.
The establishment of major industries, such as sugar and textiles, as well as inner-city light railway and cross country railway networks, require electric power as an input. But, what makes electric power vital is that it improves the lives of poor people in many different ways. Electricity avails light and power to be used by numerous appliances, including the replacement of firewood and energy consuming ovens.
Despite all of these positive benefits, power interruption and unsustainable flow could cause serious social and economic problems. There could be a sudden power outage in the middle of a surgical operation or an interruption of power whilst manufactured outputs are still on the conveyor belt. The list is endless. But, we hope these technicalities do not match up to what is being carried out so far.
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