Ethiopia: Egyptian fears over new dam ‘groundless’

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The Ethiopian government has downplayed the effect that a dam it is planning to build near the Sudanese border could have on lower Nile riparian sates, Egypt and Sudan. Addis Ababa has qualified fears expressed by Egyptian officials as “unsubstantiated”.

Reports from Egypt have indicated that the north African country is alarmed over Ethiopian plans to construct more hydroelectric dams, including a planned power plant at Benishangul state.

Cairo fears that a cumulative effect could translate into much lower water levels downstream into Egypt.

Ethiopia, which is constructing dams in a backdrop of criticisms from Cairo, stepped up its plans after Burundi joined a May 2010 treaty, the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework, which seeks to ensure a new equitable water sharing that will end Egypt’s historical control over the Nile water.

So far, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have signed the treaty, putting pressure on Egypt and Sudan, who enjoy more than 90 per cent of the Nile River.

Ambassador Berhane Gebrekirstos, State Minister of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, while briefing journalists on Wednesday, said his country’s plans to build the dam poses no harm to the lower riparian states, that is, Egypt and Sudan.

“This is a power generation project (…) it does not affect the water flow of the river,” he said of the longest river in the world to which Ethiopia contributes over 86 per cent of its water resource.

According to the Minister, while Ethiopia has a strong desire to boost its electric power generation capacity by constructing electric power dams on the Nile River, “the fear that this dam incurs on officials is groundless and unsubstantiated”.

Ethiopian Prime minister Meles Zenawi last week revealed the country’s plan to build a power plant in Benishangul Gumuz state, located 40km from the Ethiopian-Sudanese border.

Upon completion, the Benishangul power plant will have an electric generation capacity of 6,000MW, three times more than the combined capacity of all Ethiopia’s existing dams.

Expected to take at least five years to complete, the Benishangul Gumuz dam is one of three the Horn of Africa nation plans to begin building before mid 2011.

Three other power plants are expected to start operating this year.

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