Ethiopia Offers Olive Branch in Nile Water Sharing Dispute
Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa March 31, 2011
This is Part 5 of a 5-part series: Sharing the Nile's Waters
Ethiopia is offering Egypt and Sudan an olive branch in their bitter
dispute over sharing the waters of the Nile River. The offer includes
possible joint ownership of a huge Ethiopian hydropower project that
Egypt has tried to block.
Ethiopiaï¿½s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched a furious attack
Friday on powerful interests seeking to prevent construction of a
5,200-megawatt dam on the Blue Nile, in the highlands along the
Meles says the massive project would allow Ethiopia to earn precious
foreign exchange from electricity exports. But traditional funding
sources have dried up, largely due to opposition from
environmentalists, as well as from Egypt, which depends almost totally
on the Nile for its water supply.
Speaking to the opening session of an international hydropower
conference, Meles vowed the $4.8-billion project would go ahead, even
if impoverished Ethiopia has to pay the tab itself.
ï¿½We are so convinced of the justice of our cause, so sure of the
strength of our arguments, so convinced of the role of our hydropower
projects in eliminating poverty in our country that we will use every
ounce of our strength, every dime of money that we can save to
complete our program,ï¿½ Meles said.
The Ethiopian leader blasted donors and lending agencies that have
withheld support for the project, calling their action unjust.
ï¿½We need the support of all our partners to build the dam as our
savings are inadequate,ï¿½ Meles added. ï¿½If our partners are deterred
from doing so because of the noisy campaign of environmental
extremists and some politicians with old-fashioned ideas, they will in
effect be condemning millions of Africans to poverty. That cannot be
just. That cannot be fair.ï¿½
In comments to reporters after his speech, the Ethiopian leader held
out hope that the post-Mubarak administration in Cairo might soften
Egyptï¿½s longstanding opposition to upstream use of Nile water.
ï¿½I am still hopeful that the current government in Egypt will
recognize that this project has nothing but benefits to Egypt,ï¿½ said
Meles. ï¿½Nothing. I believe the Sudanese understand this has nothing
but benefits to them.ï¿½
Meles said a change of heart by Cairoï¿½s new leaders could open the way
for cooperative agreements, including a deal that would give Egypt
partial ownership of the dam.
ï¿½If there is a reconsideration, there will be time to consider many
issues, including possibly joint ownership of the project itself. We
are open to such ideas," said Meles.
Egyptï¿½s ambassador to Ethiopia Tariq Ghuneim told VOA his country is
open to negotiations to reach an amicable solution to the Nile water
dispute. He said he could not comment on Melesï¿½s proposal because he
had not seen details, but said any agreement would be a ï¿½win-winï¿½ for
Ethiopian officials were vague on when construction of the so-called
Great Millennium Dam would begin, saying only it would be ï¿½soonï¿½, and
would be completed in less than four years from the start date. They
say it would create a reservoir of water twice as large as Lake Tana,
landlocked Ethiopiaï¿½s largest body of water, but would not displace
any people because it would be contained in the existing river gorge.
The Horn of Africa nation is hoping to increase its electricity
generation capacity to 15,000 megawatts within 10 years. The World
Bank says Ethiopia has the second greatest hydropower potential in
Africa, after the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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