/ CBS NEWS
Ethiopia has dismissed reports that it’s filling a massive reservoir behind a new hydroelectric dam, as the colossal infrastructure project strains ties between three African nations that all rely on the River Nile for water. Egypt has previouslyover the dam.
Almost 10 years of negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have failed to resolve the conflict. Recent satellite images from the European Space Agency show water filling the reservoir behind the dam, but Ethiopian officials insist it’s just “natural pooling” from rainfall, not the start of filling operations.
All three nations share the water of the Blue Nile, one of the two tributaries of the River Nile. Sudan and Egypt insist an agreement on how Ethiopia will operate the new dam should be reached before the reservoir is filled.
The countries have been at odds since 2011, when Ethiopia started building the dam, at an estimated cost of $4 billion, across the Blue Nile. The tributary originates in the Ethiopian highlands, flows north through the country and then through Sudan before eventually crossing into Egypt and joining the Nile on the way to the Mediterranean.
The dam is reportedly about 70% complete, but Ethiopia has long said it intended to fill the reservoir over the summer, during the rainy season, as work on the dam continued.
“Certificate out of poverty”
“The construction of the dam and the filling of the water go hand in hand,” Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said in televised comments this week. “The filling of the dam doesn’t need to wait until the completion of the dam.” He later told reporters that as the rains are falling, “it’s an ideal time to fill the dam… This is very well known to everyone involved. They [Egypt] know it. They have to explain it to their people.”
The World Bank ranks Ethiopia’s economy as one of the fastest-growing in the world, but it is also one of the most power-starved countries on the planet. More than half of its 110 million people have no access to electricity.
“It’s a source of national pride, an iconic achievement of my generation,” Omar Redi, an Ethiopian political analyst, told CBS News. “The dam is considered Ethiopia’s certificate out of poverty, hence the huge importance the people and government attach to it.”
The width of Manhattan’s Brooklyn Bridge and standing 50 storeys high, it is hoped the dam’s 16 turbines will generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity; enough to meet not only Ethiopia’s needs, but also excess power to sell cheaply to the country’s impoverished northern neighbor, Sudan.