Sunday, 20 February 2022 was an exceptional day for Ethiopia like a mother who eagerly saw the graduation of her daughter after 11 years stay in school. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the largest African hydroelectric dam project, has borne fruit.
The GERD, Ethiopia’s flagship hydropower dam built on the Blue Nile (Abbay) River, is the largest hydro-power dam in Africa with the generating capacity of over 5,100 megawatts of electricity.
It is now the harvest season that the country begins to collect what it saw. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the third in the project timeline, inaugurated one out of the 13 turbines. The first turbine started power generation after the construction of the dam reached over 84 percent, Project Manager said.
The mega dam project is expected to double Ethiopia’s electricity output when completed. It is also expected to produce significant energy access to 60 percent of populations who are still lives in darkness.
GERD is believed to be a game changer in Ethiopia’s access to energy. This project will has positive impact in changing the present regional ecosystem to the better. Apart from generating electricity, it is meant a lot in terms contributing its share for environmental protection, forest conservation as well as strengthening climate change mitigation efforts.
The dam, with a huge water reservoir that rests on around 250 kilometers of land and a man-made lake, is expected to become among the top tourist destinations in Ethiopia. GERD Manager Kifle Horo during the project commencement ceremony held Sunday said that when completed, GERD is the largest hydro-power generating dam in Africa and among the top world’s electric generating hydro power plants with over 5,100 megawatt generating capacity.
The energy produced from GERD would significantly improve access to energy in rural Ethiopia, he added. The manager said aside from generating electricity, the project will become a recreational and tourist destination.
The dam, according to Kifle, would also create islands. Hence, parallel to generating electric power, the dam will create job opportunities for people inclined to engage in business related to tourism, transportation and fish production.
Inaugurating the early generating unit of the dam with all these blessings and potentials, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday stated that “today, Africa’s largest power plant, the GERD’s first turbine began generating power. This is good news for our continent and the downstream
countries with whom we aspire to work together. As Ethiopia marks the birth of a new ear, I congratulate all Ethiopians.” Abiy during his congratulatory speech underlined that GERD is a flagship project that aims to provide light for over 60 million rural Ethiopians who are forced to live in darkness.
In addition, Ethiopian mothers are collecting firewood from remote forest areas to produce energy from wood and charcoal.
This has double negative implications, which affects the forest coverage of the environment and health of the mothers and children. For Abiy, GERD is constructed to produce power for the people living in darkness who are forced to use charcoal and firewood for cooking and light.
In Ethiopia around 30 million children are attending schools, from which two-third of these school children are living in the rural part of the country forced to do their homework using candles or forced to attend schools without having access to electricity for study.
For cooking, over 80 percent of the Ethiopian population is using wood, charcoal and other non-renewable energy sources. These energy sources are disturbing the climate change, and affect the health of mothers and children by exacerbating indoor air pollution.
In addition, since the wood and charcoal comes from the forest areas, it facilitates deforestation and land degradation.
The GERD, which hopes to increase Ethiopia’s electric production capacity more than double, is expected to become a radical shifter in Ethiopia’s energy distribution and access across the country.
This would save deforestation, maternal and child mortality due to indoor air pollution, rural women’s fatigue and time that they waste to collect firewood and help Ethiopian children to use electricity to do their home-works.
It would also help to facilitate education, health and other social services. In addition, launching of GERD promotes environmental protection and forest conservation across the country especially in the Blue Nile River Basin across three regional states, Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz that invests on environmental protection and new seedling plantation across the basin and the water origins of the tributaries of the Blue Nile River.
This giant hydro-power project is a real blessing for Ethiopia’s environmental protection, forest conservation, ecological restoration, improving livelihood of the rural population and promoting tourism.
By selling around two thousand megawatts of energy produced from the GERD, Ethiopia is also expected to earn over half billion dollars annually from its neighboring countries.
This economic potential would also play its role in modernizing Ethiopian agriculture, environmental protection efforts, changing the livelihood of the rural population and communities living around protected forest areas.
Hence, GERD will play a crucial role in balancing nature and restoring affected ecological areas in Ethiopia. As a regional water tower of the Horn of Africa and source of 11 rivers flowing to all its neighbors, protecting and conserving horn’s climate change impacts.
The development of forest coverage and protected areas in Ethiopia would help to increase rainfall variability and the watercourse of the rivers to the neighboring countries.
As a key project to develop national, regional access to energy, it is expected to become a radical shift maker in facilitating regional integration through grid connectivity.
GERD is a huge opportunity for the drought-affected region to exploit its regional resources and to synergize the available potentials for the development of the people in the region.
Abiy stated GERD is a gift not only to Ethiopia but also to the downstream countries of the Nile River, Egypt and Sudan and to the other riparian countries. “Ethiopia’s interest is to benefit its people and neighboring countries by producing clean energy from GERD,” Abiy noted.
In the long run, Abiy said, Ethiopia’s intention is to supply energy up to Europe constructing more dams on its annually flowing rivers and contribute its share in reducing global warming by providing clean and renewable energy to countries in the region and up to Europe through Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea using grid connectivity.
“As a highland country Ethiopia has many rivers with huge rainfall” Abiy said adding “using this comparative advantage, Ethiopia’s intention is to build more dams to produce energy.” Hence, he stated, the current water politics should be changed and countries would give due emphasis to cooperation rather than contention and conspiracies.
BY DARGIE KAHSAY
The 22 February 2022