Ever since Ethiopiaís announcement of its plan to build a mega dam over the Nile, numerous predominantly foreign experts and ordinary people have expressed their doubt over the realization of the project. The doubters raised the countryís capacity to raise the required fund and to withstand pressure groups working to hold the project in its tracks as too strong challenges to overcome.
Proving doubters wrong
These doubters are still at large and they keep on coming up with ridiculous reports about the construction of the dam being halted for lack of funds or some other reason they fantasize about. It is no wonder that many of these reports emanate from North Africa or Arabia.
Considering the grandeur of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, numerous Ethiopians also doubted whether the project would take off within a reasonable time after its announcement.
Despite the doubts and negative reports though, the project is currently set to celebrate its fifth birthday. In doing so, it stands tall in defiance of Ethiopiaís doubters. With the project implementation around 50%, Ethiopia has effectively demonstrated to the whole world that it has developed the muscles to lift the Nile 140m above the arid lowlands of Guba.
Therefore, the fifth year celebrations of the GERD are primarily reminders to Ethiopians and the world at large that the time to doubt the project has passed. The celebration is rather an affirmation of the inevitable commissioning of the GERD and the consistently shorter time left for that to happen.
Fair water distribution
In addition to proving doubters wrong, the fifth year celebration is also a commemoration of more pragmatic water rights by riparian countries of the Nile. With Ethiopiaís policy of fair distribution of water lingering since the onset of the project, reports of a water war looming over the Nile were rife.
Experts from cross cutting disciplines speculated of ill-fated Ethio-Eyptian relations. A reported military cooperation deal for the Egyptian military to use Western Sudanese military bases as a launch pad for air attack was particularly cited as an unassailable sign of military engagement between Egypt and Ethiopia. Back in those days, experts compared the military capabilities of the two countries and whether an outright war was feasible.
A few years down the line, things have cleared up very well with everyone capable of seeing the preposterous claims for what they are. Despite the unflinching aggressive and provocative calls of a group of Egyptian politicians, the rhetoric concerning the Nile has become more sensible.
The last five years have seen increased engagement of the lower riparian countries, Egypt and the Sudan, with their upper riparian counterparts. Although an amicable agreement still eludes the riparian countries, the lower riparian countries have made themselves available for deliberation. Considering the long history of especially Egypt ignoring matters related to its African counterparts, the change of heart to sit at a round table and raise the issue of fair distribution of the waters of the Nile is an important step forward.††
By posing a concrete challenge to the long kept principle of monopoly of the waters of the Nile by Egypt and the Sudan, the GERD has removed obstacles to fair utilization of the Nile among its riparian countries. Earlier projects on White Nile, though pioneering, could not muster the same weight in the eyes of the downstream riparian countries. Therefore, the GERD pushed the issue of fair distribution of water over the Nile River further forward by trimming down the possibility of the traditional speculation of war. The benefits it renders downstream countries has also served as a point complementing fair distribution of water once again.
Another notable point that needs to be raised is the capacity being built through project undertakings. From the simple operation and assembly of huge construction machines like Clamp shells to the sophisticated work processes needed to manage and procure high tech products, the project has boosted the countryís capacity tremendously. With the damís generation capacity previously projected to be 5,250mw, it was the design optimization by METEC that led to the surge in that figure to the present 6,000mw.
METECís capacity building activities have been complemented by the establishment of a workshop at the project site. The vastly and rapidly improving conqueror of technology in our country is almost done with fitting the four box culverts on the left side of the dam. These box culverts are gateways fitted at the front end of tunnels running across the width of the damís left side. The end of construction of these structures would kick start re-diversion of the Blue Nile to acquire a passage through them. That would, in turn, make room for construction activities that would connect the two sides of the dam which are presently separated by the riverís adopted artificial course.
METECís workshop is working on the production of the huge 8m in diameter penstocks to be used to run stored water by the dam to the turbines that generate electricity. These penstocks are mammoth tunnel like structures made of metal. Therefore, it is quite a feat for a country like ours to have the technology to make 8m in diameter penstocks that are very lengthy as well.
The management, follow up and maintenance work involved in the procurement and running of the 2,300 machines, 10,000 local work force and 500 expats in the project also pushes the frontier of various work procedures in the country further. Work procedures that enable better coordination, recording techniques, effectiveness and efficiency have all been put in place to live up to the enormity of the task at hand.†††
It is in the face of challenges that capacities are built. The quest to overcome challenges leads to solutions that end up building capacity. From the very first decision to take on a project of this magnitude upon its shoulders to the involvement of METEC, the Ethiopian government has been daring enough to rise above the problems that come its way. Salini contracted dam construction projects in Ethiopia solely. It then sub-contracted some activities to other companies. The introduction of another contractor in the form of METEC was a major decision that has to be admired. The reward is increased capacity to take on even more complicated undertakings and a lesson that things are as impossible as what you make of them.
Transition to another phase
Finally, yet another milestone the fifth year celebration of the GERD represents is its transition into another phase. After spending the last five years trying to build the first half of the project, the fifth year marks the last half of it. The work put into the foundation, installation of box culverts and the construction of the damís one third height were all part of the five year undertakings.
However, the fifth year marks the transformation of the undertakings to another level. The activities expected include the installation of the 8m in diameter penstocks to be used to run stored water by the dam to the turbines that generate electricity; the installation of the turbines with two of those expected to be fitted recently to produce 108 mw of electricity and the construction of the dam that is expected to pick up height rapidly with narrowing planes as it increases height. ††