The Ethiopian government has been on a public relations offensive to persuade its Egyptian and Sudanese neighbors that a $4.2 billion mega-dam project on the Nile river will be helpful, not harmful. Officials in Egypt and international experts disagree, fearing a massive environmental and economic fallout.
“The Egyptian government is expected to stop threatening Ethiopia of breaching international principles and realize the benefits the dam provides to the Egyptian people,” said Ambassador Dina Mufti, spokesman for Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry, according to a report on InDepthAfrica.com.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project is intended to be the largest hydro-electric power plant on the continent, generating 6,000 megawatts of power.
Located about 550 miles from Addis Ababa, in a region where temperatures can reach 118 degrees, the construction site is currently taking up almost 700 square miles of space -- an area more than four times the size of Cairo.
It was originally announced in 2011, with plans to be completed by 2017. Though international groups have asked Ethiopian officials to thoroughly examine the ramifications of the project on the surrounding environment, nothing substantial has been produced.
In May of last year, Ethiopian workers successfully diverted part of the Blue Nile. In February, project leader Samegnew Bekele said that the project was 30 percent complete, which caused Egyptian officials to demand that Ethiopia submit its plans to an international institution for assessment, according to a report in Al-Ahram.
The environmental advocacy agency reported in January that the project has been poorly planned, is causing great concern for water security experts and engineers, and will displace 20,000 people in Ethiopia.
“This is not just about Egypt and Sudan. International rivers are governed by laws and conventions, in accordance with which any action that affects water quotas requires advanced notice and guarantees against possible harm,” said Mohamed Allam, former minister of irrigation and water resources in Egypt, to InternationalRivers.org.
The Nile is the world’s longest river, stretching north about 4,160 miles through 11 countries. The Blue Nile runs through Ethiopia, joining the White Nile in Sudan before passing into Egypt.
When complete, the dam will include a reservoir capable of holding 2.6 trillion cubic feet of water, roughly equivalent to the annual flow of the Nile at the Sudanese-Egyptian border.
“It’s a matter of life or death, a national security issue that can never be compromised on,” said Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty to the BBC last month.
“The fact that we have been under the yoke of poverty for so long while nature has endowed us with a precious gift like the Nile has always infuriated and made us ashamed in equal measures,” reads an op-ed from Addis Ababa-based publication The Reporter, published on All Africa. “All this sadness and frustration, however, is now giving way to determination and optimism with the laying of the cornerstone of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam some three years ago.”