Ethiopia announced large hydroelectric project on the Nile

Soon construction will start at the Benishangul plant, on the Blue Nile. Project capacity (6,000 MW) is three times the whole electricity capacity that is currently installed in the country. Egypt strongly opposes the project.

Ethiopia has announced that construction is about to start for the large hydroelectric plant on the Blue Nile, in the western region of Benishangul, about 40 km from the Sudanese border.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who specified that the plant will have a capacity of 6,000 MW, three times the whole electricity capacity that is current installed in this country. Indeed Ethiopia, which has 76 million inhabitants, is among the poorest countries in the world as regards energy. The installed electricity capacity at the end of 2010 (almost entirely hydropower) amounts to 1,850 MW, and it must be noted that the situation has somewhat improved over the past year, when three large hydropower plants (1,180 MW total capacity) were completed and should be grid-connected over the next few months.

The announcement of the new Benishangul project caused concern and violent controversy in Egypt, which fears the risk of depletion of water resources of the Nile, with serious damage to its economy.

On the basis of treaties signed in the 50s, Egypt (which, along with Sudan, has about 90% of the river) believes it has a veto power over decisions taken on water taken from the Nile.

However, a cooperation agreement signed in May 2010 BY Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya (and strongly opposed by Sudan and Egypt) aims to overcome this situation and create regional agreements that will allow projects to be undertaken without the previous advice of Egypt.

Almost all Ethiopia’s dams lie either in the Nile River basin or on the Omo River. The Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia, meets the White Nile in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Both the Blue Nile and Omo River are shared with Ethiopia’s neighbors but do not have international water sharing agreements. However, Ethiopia does participate in the Nile Basin Initiative, a forum for dialogue with the other Nile basin countries.

Sudan and Egypt are the notable absentees from the initiative. Egypt claims that a colonial era agreement giving it the lion’s share of the Nile’s water is still valid.

However, according to the Ethiopian prime minister, concerns raised by Egyptian officials are "unfounded, because this energy project will use water which will then pumped be back into the river," and therefore "it will not affect the river flow downstream of the dam". The construction of the new dam on the Nile River should start at mid-year and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

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