Feature: Ethiopians rejoice historic moment on disputed grand dam project


  • World
  • Saturday, 25 Jul 2020

ADDIS ABABA, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Berihun Yihune, 67, who lives with his seven family members in Ethiopia's resort town of Bahir Dar in northwestern Ethiopia, is a happy man as Ethiopia announced the much-awaited first-year filling of the 6,500 MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Bahir Dar is a place where the Blue Nile River, or Abay as the locals call it, embarked on its long journey all the way to its final destination in the Mediterranean Sea.

For Yihune and fellow dwellers of Bahir Dar, located about 570 km northwestern of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, the Abay river which is the major tributary to the world's longest Nile river, is not just a river. For them, the river signifies a common identity and a living bond between the people and their creator as it is written in their Orthodox Christian Bible and various other sacred manuscripts.

"Our history is highly tied to the river and its waters," Yihune told Xinhua on Thursday, adding "same as our forefathers did for centuries, we continue praising the river for its greatness in our songs, and condemn it for taking our resources away from us."

Yihune argued that despite its symbolic significance and centuries-long historical attachment with Ethiopia and its people, the Blue Nile river has not significantly contributed to Ethiopia's agrarian economy, mainly due to lack of local capabilities to harness the river's potential both for agricultural activities as well as for other economic and energy development options.

He also blamed the river for transporting Ethiopia's fertile soil across the two downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt, by eroding the highlands of the northwestern and southwestern Ethiopia for centuries, eventually affecting the agriculture of Ethiopia.

Rising from Lake Tana on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile or Abay River is one of the two principal headwaters of the world's longest Nile River. The Blue Nile flows some 1,600 km southwards then northwest into Ethiopia's neighboring country Sudan before it meets the White Nile in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The Blue Nile, which contributes more than 85 percent of the Nile waters, further flows northwards into Egypt after meeting the White Nile, and finally ends in the Mediterranean Sea after crossing the North African country.

In April 2011, the Ethiopian government announced the East African country's ambitious development project, dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), to be constructed on the Blue Nile river in Ethiopia's Benishangul Regional State in proximity to the Ethiopia-Sudan border.

The construction of the 6,500-MW hydroelectric dam on the river, which will be regarded as Africa's largest dam upon completion with a total volume of 74,000 billion cubic meters, has since then been a major issue among the three Nile-bound countries that are Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan.

Despite Ethiopia's initial strong commitment and endeavor to finalize the dam project within the planned five-year construction period, the project has not been finalized within the planned timeframe, which the Ethiopian government attributed to corruption, as well as maladministration.

Ahmed, who assumed Ethiopia's PM office back in April 2018, has been busy reinvigorating the performance of the mega hydroelectric dam project, which had stalled for years prior to Ahmed's coming to power.

On Wednesday, the project, which is now 74.5 percent complete, witnessed what the Ethiopian premier described "a historic moment," following the completion of the first-round filling of the dam.

Following the announcement of the completion of the first-round filling of the mega-dam, Ethiopians at home and across the globe flooded social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, among others, to witness the "historic moment."

Yihune, who dubbed the GERD as "a driving force" for Ethiopia's future rise in economic development, stressed that realizing the ambitious project "will rewrite all the negative narratives about the Abay (Blue Nile) river" by rejuvenate the centuries-long bond between the river and Ethiopians by creating better economic advantages for the people.

For Yihune, the completion of the first-round filling of the mega-dam "signifies a new dawn in Ethiopia's pursuit towards its renaissance, and achieving our former greatness and glory."

The announcement by the Ethiopian government on the completion of the first-round filling of the mega-dam also came much to the excitement of the country's estimated 107 million total population.

UNREMITTING DISAGREEMENTS OVER GERD PROJECT

The diplomatic relations among Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan have been over the years largely intertwined with the Blue Nile River that originates from Ethiopia and shared among the three countries.

Egypt, a downstream Nile Basin country, has been frequently expressing its concern that Ethiopia's mega-dam might affect its share of the river water, while the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has repeatedly vowed that the dam will not harm Egypt or Sudan, saying the dam project would "ensure an equitable and reasonable" utilization of the river waters among the three concerned countries.

Egypt and Sudan have been also calling on Ethiopia not to start filling the dam without reaching an agreement.

Amid the continued, yet less fruitful, trilateral discussions among representatives of the three countries on the filling of the dam, the three countries have been in recent weeks engaged in through African Union (AU)-led discussions towards reaching an agreement.

On Tuesday, the three countries' leaders took part in the latest follow-up Extraordinary Meeting of the AU Assembly that was convened by Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, who is also the current Chairperson of the AU, on the ongoing negotiations mainly on the filling of the dam.

During the AU-led meeting, the Ethiopian side reiterated that the East African country is "committed to a balanced and win-win negotiation that ascertains. The Abbay River will benefit all the three countries," according to the Ethiopian Prime Minister's Office.

The Office, which noted that the GERD first year filling was achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping due to strong rains during the past two weeks, stressed that the Extraordinary Meeting was "concluded with all parties reaching a major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement."

According to a meeting outcome statement issued by the office, the three countries' leaders agreed "for further technical discussions on the filling to continue in the AU led process and proceed to a comprehensive agreement."

According to the Ethiopian premier, if current works continue for the coming two years period, the GERD project will reach its full hydroelectric power production capacity by the second half of 2022.

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