Addis Ababa, April 2, 2012 (WIC) – It was exactly last year that Ethiopia officially launched one of the biggest development projects yet in its history. What made the project, which is estimated to cost around 80 billion birr (nearly $5 bln), even more audacious was the government’s decision to exploit one of Ethiopia’s untapped rich water resource of Abbay (Nile) River, the longest river in the world. The move was bold because colonial era treaties throughout history precluded the country from exploiting the river. There were also some skepticism about Ethiopia’s ability to accomplish such an ambitious mega hydropower project. There were many who doubted the government’s intentions. But it was no April Fool’s Day, and the grand project was embraced with massive enthusiasm and gallant support of the great majority of Ethiopians, young and old alike.
Inaugurating the project on April 2, 2011 in Guba wereda of Benishangul Gumuz regional state, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had this to say about financing the mega project;
“As we will be financing several other projects in our plan [GTP], the expense will be an additional and heavy burden on us. All our efforts to lighten this have been unsuccessful, leaving us with only two options. Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!” That was what exactly happened. Millions of Ethiopians both at home and abroad began pitching-in by purchasing the government saving bond, launched to finance the project with five percent interest rate. The project provided a platform for Ethiopians, putting aside their differences, to come together for a single development endeavor.
An estimated 3,000 workers, out of which 100 are foreigners, are now working round-the-clock on the project formerly known as ‘Project X’ and now dubbed The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.
When it was officially launched last year the Dam was reported to have a power generation capacity of 5,250 megawatts. With a recent revised design however, the Dam could generate 6,000 megawatts, putting itself among the world’s top ten hydropower plants.
“This is achieved without optimization,” Eng. Simegnew Bekele, project manager, told WIC. “In fact, the power generation capacity is upgraded with lower project cost and period.”
The project manager says, one year on, the construction of Africa’s biggest dam is progressing very well spurred by massive public support.
“We are doing river diversion and excavation works digging out up to 15,000 metric cube of stone in a month,” said Simegnew. “About two million metric cube of soil has been excavated so far.”
A total of 700 heavy machineries are deployed on the construction site, located 20 kilometers east of neighboring Sudan. A stone crushing plant with a capacity to crush 2,000 tons of stone per hour and RCC concrete mixing plant with a capacity to produce 400 metric cube concrete batch per hour have been erected.
Digging, crushing, loading, offloading and the sight of roaring heavy machineries have become a 24-hours routine in the humid area with the temperature ranging from 40 to 47 Co.
Works are carried non-stop in two shifts. According to the project manager, as the project progresses, the number of workers could go as high as 12,000.
Solomon Tamirat, in his early 40s, is a senior technician who was working during the night shift when WIC talked to him. He boasts 25 years of experience in his field. His last five years experience came from working at Tana Beles, a multipurpose hydropower plant which was inaugurated in May 2010. Solomon is one of the highest paid workers, earning a monthly salary of 25,000 birr. But he says his joy comes from mere involvement in the project. “For me, working in this historic and ambitious project gives me the greatest joy,” Solomon told WIC. “The public’s strong backing of the project is strength for us”.
The nationwide celebration of the first anniversary of the launching of the project aims to renew public commitment to complete the dam ahead of the original six years period.
The Dam is expected to play a major role in realizing the five-year Growth and Transformation Plan and Ethiopia’s consequent advance towards eradication of poverty.
When completed, the Renaissance Dam will triple the current power capacity of the country which stands around 2,000 megawatts.
The Dam, which is expected to hold 75 billion cubic meters of water, almost three times the size of Lake Tana, could also provide for an opportunity for fishing activities.