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Ethiopia inaugurates $4.2bn mega-dam project

Author: Aljazeera | Published: Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Grant Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Photo: Curtesy

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has officially inaugurated electricity production from the country’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile, a milestone in the controversial multibillion-dollar project.

Abiy, accompanied by high-ranking officials, toured the power generation station on Sunday and pressed a series of buttons on an electronic screen, a move that officials said initiated production.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is set to be the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa but has been at the center of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground there in 2011.

Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Addis Ababa deems it essential for its electrification and development.

The $4.2bn project is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, more than doubling Ethiopia’s electricity output.

State media reported that the 145-metre high dam – which lies on Blue Nile River in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, not far from the border with Sudan – had started generating 375 megawatts of electricity from one of its turbines on Sunday.

Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.

Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding but fears its own dams could be harmed without agreement on the GERD’s operation.

Both countries have been pushing Ethiopia for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the massive dam, but talks under the auspices of the African Union have failed to reach a breakthrough.

The dam was initiated under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the leader who ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades until his death in 2012.

Civil servants contributed one month’s salary towards the project in the year of the project launch, and the government has since issued dam bonds targeting Ethiopians at home and abroad.

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