Impact of GERD surpasses economic benefit

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011.

It is in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, about 15 km (9 mi) east of the border with Sudan. At 6.45 gig watts, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the 7th largest in the world. As of August 2017, the work stood at 60% completion. Once completed, the reservoir will take from 5 to 15 years to fill with water.

 Recalling the background, the eventual site for the GERD was identified by the United States Bureau of Reclamation during a Blue Nile survey conducted between 1956 and 1964 during the administration of Aklilu Habtewold.

 Lately, the Ethiopian Government surveyed the site in October 2009 and August 2010. In November 2010, a design for the dam was submitted. On 31 March 2011, a day after the project was made public, a US$4.8 billion contract was awarded without competitive bidding to Salini Costruttori and the dam’s foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011 by then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

 Regarding cost and financing, Ethiopian government has stated that it intends to fund the entire cost of the dam by itself. It has issued a bond targeted at Ethiopians in the country and abroad to that end. The turbines and associated electrical equipment of the hydropower plants costing about US$1.8 billion are reportedly financed by Chinese banks.

 This would leave US$3 billion to be financed by the Ethiopian government through other means. The estimated US$4.8 billion construction cost, apparently excluding the cost of power transmission lines, corresponds to about 5% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product of US$87 billion in 2017. Construction of GERD upto its current condition has viewed several benefits, as many say.

 One is technology and knowledge transfer. In this regard, Ethiopians who are working with Salini, a company owned many years’ experience and international publicity, have gained advanced knowledge, acquired skill and technology experience.

The other is unified public participation from border to border with no divergence in age, gender, race or religion, as many believe. This united public participation expressed through contributing in various ways such as bond purchasing, gifts and contributing from salary enabled the construction undergo swiftly.

However, delay of the dam’s construction and the news regarding wastage of finance budgeted have lagged the initial public participation to some extent. Cognizant to this, GERD Office of Public Engagement Coordination, as of Hailu Abreham, media and communication officer of the coordination, is striving to restore public trust. With no doubt, this mega project has brought up great attitudinal change among the public that “we can” by own treasury, as to Hailu. Regardless of some exaggerated and fake news that the construction is ceased, great amount of people have been showing their support yet. For instance, during six months of the current budget year, 484,072,000 Birr is gained locally from bond sale and gift as well as 46 million Birr from the Diaspora community, he added.

 Reluctance in conveying current information from the office side concerning the dam’s current construction status and lack in public mobilization, as of Hailu, have negatively contributed for the exaggerated and fake news especially through social media.

In order to uplift public participation therefore, as to Roman Gebresilassie, director, GERD Office of Public Engagement Coordination, common understanding should be restored and strengthened first. Promising beginnings are seen in this regard.

 Events such as music night, art exhibition and different recreations that motivate different sects of the public are planned in line with previous experience, she noted. Though decision is made not to act in public fundraising this year, as to Roman, there are activities like selling T-shirt costs 50 Birr which holds “I placed my print” along with the Dam’s picture.

Public support for the dam creates not only financial capacity but also diplomatic power, as of some intellectuals. Feqahmed Negash, director, Eastern Nile Continental Technical Office, recalled that people cooperated in finance, knowledge, and labor, moral and even prayer following the realization of the Dam. This sense of ownership has been financial source and strength for the diplomatic activity, he said.

As international experiences show undergoing such kind of mega projects is not easy, as to Feqahmed. Some kind of delay is also expected in case of GERD especially while making new agreement with a contractor that substitutes the non effective one.

 On the other hand, unexpected situations like financial, technical, and political and the like can encounter projects and become causes for delay and extra expense, as to Feqahmed. Adding, he said that two years ago a survey study was conducted on mega projects those were internationally underway including Gibe III focusing on the time they had begun, accomplishment schedule, initially estimated budget and the time of completion and final cost.

 The finding of the study indicated that there was an average of 40 to 60 percent increment in terms of cost and time. The situation the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam encountered thus is not varied from this, he noted. Engineer Kifle Horo, CEO, GERD, on his part said that the measure taken snatching the electromechanical work of the project from Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC), a local company, is apt to correct the problem created as a result of delay.

Reasoning his comment, he said that mega projects are expected to help accelerate a nation’s economy but equally hurt the economy if they are not handled properly. This is seen in other countries too. Had Ethiopian government not taken this measure, the project with no doubt would have high capacity of agitating the nation’s economy, he stressed. Beyond the problem could occur if the measure was not taken, as to him the current delay by itself result in harm.

The reason is that the dam was intended to secure up to 1 billion Dollars per annum when construction is completed and fully generating power. The extended delay in construction thus, elongates the time it can fully generate power and this in turn causes the country loose 1 billion dollars per year. In general, the slowing down of public support for the dam imposes not only financial influence but also diplomatic pressure as to the people mentioned above.

 Had public feeling and support once restored in this way, it empowers Ethiopian negotiators set agenda, put direction and decide the outcome in addition to financial backing. Therefore, resuming public initiation to its initial sense is crucial, they emphasized.

The Ethiopian Herald April 9, 2019

BY BACHA ZEWDIE

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