Ethiopia diverts Nile to build mega-dam

Hydroelectric project creating water anxiety in Egypt; reporter covering farm evictions arrested

Ethiopia has begun diverting the flow of the River Nile as part of its controversial scheme to build Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam has already caused significant concern in Egypt, which is downstream of Ethiopia and totally dependent on the Nile for water.

Yesterday, the Horn of Africa state arrested a journalist for an Ethiopian newspaper who had met farmers evicted from near the site of the dam, which is the continent’s biggest engineering project.

Muluken Tesfahun was detained after attempting to interview some of the hundreds of evicted farmers, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It was the second arrest of a reporter in connection with the dam. The CPJ’s Mohamed Keita accused the Ethiopian government of “criminalising independent journalists”.

The Grand Renaissance, located in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 25 miles (40km) from the border with Sudan, is the centrepiece of a $12bn (£8bn) string of dams with which Ethiopia aims to turn itself into the region’s main energy exporter.

Engineers began to divert the flow of the river on Tuesday in order to lower water levels and advance construction, which is due to be completed in 2015.

The current diversion is not expected to affect river flows but concerns remain over the longer-term impact of the dam. “This now enables us to carry out civil engineering work without difficulties,” said Mihret Debebe, chief executive officer of the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation. “The aim is to divert the river by a few metres and then allow it to flow on its natural course.”

Some scientists working in Egypt, Sudan and Italy have warned that the dam could be a “catastrophe” for downstream countries, and reduce the flow by up to a fifth while it is being filled. The project has been mired in controversy since it was announced in 2011, with no independent environmental impact study yet released. The contract for construction was awarded without competitive bidding to the Italian company Salini Construttori. Large international lenders such as the World Bank opted out of financing the project, with concerns over transparency. They were also accused of succumbing to Egyptian pressure to shun the dam which is planned to generate 6,000 megawatts.

Ethiopia claims that it is financing the dam from government funds, and has launched a bond with a return of 5 per cent. However, it has been accused of coercing public sector workers into buying the bonds. Once synonymous with famine, the  Ethiopian state has overseen rapid economic growth and deep poverty reduction in the last decade, but has been criticised for doing so at the expense of democratic rights.

Two treaties signed more than 50 years ago gave Egypt the lion’s share of the water from the Nile. But those deals, so crucial to one country, set up an imbalance of resources that has led analysts to look to this river system as the likely theatre for the first of the long-heralded water wars.

When five of the 10 Nile basin countries signed up to a modern-day agreement that would give them a greater share of the waters, it was greeted in the Egyptian press as a “death sentence”.

The White Nile rises in East Africa in Lake Victoria and drains through Uganda into Sudan where it meets in Khartoum, with the Blue Nile flowing from Ethiopia’s Lake Tana. Historically Egypt has threatened to go to war over the Nile but that is highly unlikely now. Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Mohamed Idrees, said his country must treat the dam as a “reality” as it has become a “national project” for the upstream nation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine