Ethiopia has completed the filling of a massive dam on the Blue Nile River for a second year, an official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, in a move that is likely to raise further tensions with Egypt and Sudan, which have long protested against project.
“The first filling was already made last year. The second is already ready today. So today or tomorrow, the second filling will be announced,” the official said, adding that there is now enough water stored to start producing energy.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of controversy ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011. Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat due to their dependence on the Nile, while Ethiopia considers it important for its electrification. and development.
Talks held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) have failed to reach a three-way agreement on the filling and operations of the dam, and Cairo and Khartoum have demanded that Addis Ababa cease filling the massive reservoir until such an agreement is reached. But Ethiopian officials have argued that backfilling is a natural part of the dam’s construction process and cannot be stopped.
The UN Security Council met earlier this month to discuss the project, although Ethiopia later dismissed the session as a “helpful” distraction from the AU-led process. Egypt claims a historic right to the Nile from a 1929 treaty that gave it veto power over construction projects along the river.
A 1959 treaty increased Egypt’s allocation to about 66% of the river’s flow, by 22% for Sudan. Yet Ethiopia was not a party to these treaties and does not see them as valid. In 2010, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, the Nile Basin countries signed another deal, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, which allows projects on the river without Cairo’s agreement.
Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele confirmed on Twitter early Monday afternoon that the second-year target had been reached and that the milestone would enable the dam to run the first two of its 13 turbines.
“Intensive efforts are being made for the two turbines to generate energy,” says Seleshi. The $ 4.2 billion dam will produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, making it Africa’s largest hydropower dam and more than doubling Ethiopia’s electricity production.
Reservoir replenishment began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 that the target had reached 4.9 billion cubic meters. The goal for this year’s rainy season was to add 13.5 billion cubic meters. The capacity of the container is 74 billion. It is unclear when exactly the dam will start producing energy, but the two turbines should produce 750 megawatts of electricity, which will increase national production by about 20%, says Addisu Lashitew from the Brookings Institution in Washington. It is “a significant amount” for an economy that often faces a lack of power and is sometimes hampered by power rationing, he said.
The milestone would also have “political consequences” for a country going through a “very difficult time” in no small part because of the eight-month-old war in its northern Tigray region, Addisu said. “The pond is seen as a national symbol, a unifying symbol. It is one of the few things that brings people from all walks of life together like Ethiopia,” he said. “Definitely, the government will try to extract political value from the second filling,” he noted.