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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ethiopia rejects dam criticism, targets 10 000 MW


Ethiopia on Thursday rejected criticism of its massive hydropower dam projects and vowed to push ahead with plans to boost its power generating ability from 2 000 MW to 10 000 MW within five years.

The Horn of Africa nation's ambitious dam building programme has drawn fire from human rights groups as well as from Egypt and other Nile River countries.

"We have a plan to reach 10 000 MW within the coming five years," mines and energy minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, told Reuters in an interview.

"Most of the energy we plan to generate will come from hydropower."

Ethiopia is overwhelmingly reliant on dams for its energy needs and has opened three over the last year, bringing the total number in the country to seven.

Another two are being built, including the huge Gibe III – a project that foreign charities say could leave more than 200 000 people reliant on food aid.

Rights groups, spearheaded by Survival International, have started an online campaign against the dam, which would generate 2 000 MW, and are lobbying international lenders not to contribute to its 1.4 billion euro cost.

"These organisations do not want Ethiopia to develop," Alemayehu said.

"Criticising countries like Ethiopia is their source of income. They have no reason to attack our dams. We have environmental and social plans in place."

The European Investment Bank (EIB) said last month that it had decided not to help fund the project but did not say why it had made that decision.

Alemayehu said it was possible the EIB had been pressured by rights groups.

"But I don't know their reason," he said. "It's not a big problem for us. We have other options. And the funding at the moment is coming from our government."

'NO NILE WAR'

Ethiopia's hydropower plans are also closely watched by Egypt and Sudan who fear more dams on Ethiopia's stretch of the Nile could leave them thirsty.

After more than a decade of talks driven by anger over the perceived injustice of a previous Nile water treaty signed in 1929, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed a new deal in May without their northern neighbours.

The five signatories have given the other Nile Basin countries – Egypt, Sudan, Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo – one year to join the pact but the countries have been split by behind-the-scenes rows since the signing.

Under the 1929 deal, Egypt, which faces water shortages by 2017, is entitled to 55,5-billion cubic metres a year, the lion's share of the Nile's flow of 84-billion cubic metres. Some 85% of the Nile's waters originate in Ethiopia.

The nine countries are due to meet again in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in November.

"What we will construct on the river will never cause any problems for the Egyptians," Alemayehu said. "But the Egyptians always stand against Ethiopian development. They need to understand better what we are planning."

Alemayehu, however, ruled out the possibility that war could erupt over the Nile.

"That will never happen," he said. "Never."

Ethiopia plans to export power to neighbouring Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya as soon as it meets its own growing energy needs, Alemayehu said.

Ethiopia rationed power for five months this year with outages every second day, which closed factories, hampered exports and fuelled a currency shortage.

"We should have no need to ration power in 2011 with our new dams," Alemayehu said. "We are now building interconnectivity infrastructure with Sudan and Djibouti and that should be finished within six months."

Power demand in Africa will rise by 150 000 MW between 2007 and 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

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