Sudan seeks to tap 'blue gold' with new dam projects
By Abdelmoneim Abu Edris Ali
ROSEIRES DAM, Jun 26, 2011 (AFP) - Sudan is aggressively seeking to tap
its abundant Nile waters with new dam projects as the oil-rich south's
independence looms, but experts warn of the social and environmental
costs, and the bearing on the Nile water sharing dispute.
Khartoum sits on the confluence of the Blue and White Niles.
The cash-strapped government has good reasons for wanting to exploit its
"blue gold," a valuable resource that will help to offset the imminent
loss of revenues from southern oil -- some 36 percent of its income --
when south Sudan proclaims independence on July 9.
"Sudan is clearly gearing up in terms of agriculture, because of the oil
gap that comes with the separation of the south. To the extent that it
can do more in the way of dams, that is its economic security," said a
Sudan-based environmentalist, requesting anonymity.
Last week, during a ministerial visit, the engineer responsible for
heightening the vast Roseires dam, on the Blue Nile, said the $400
million project, which is due for completion in June 2012, would create
three million feddans (1.3 million hectares) of farmland.
It will also more than double the amount of water the reservoir can
store -- to 7.4 billion cubic metres -- and raise its 280 megawatts of
power generation capacity by 50 percent.
The Atbara and Seteet dams being built in Kassala state, meanwhile, will
add another one million feddans of new farmland and have a combined
generation capacity of 320 megawatts when they are completed in
September 2015, at a cost $840 million, according to their chief engineer.
The Gulf-funded and Chinese-built dam projects that the Sudanese
government has embarked on dwarf other public development programmes.
"Sudan's ambitious dam strategy has been the single biggest source of
discretionary spending in the last few years and represents a key
development priority," said Harry Verhoeven, an expert on water and
agriculture in Sudan, in a report published this month by the Chatham
House think tank.
"The Merowe Dam alone (completed in 2009 at a cost of more than $2
billion) took up almost 40 percent of total public investment in
national development projects between 2005 and 2008."
But there are doubts about the cost effectiveness of such massive
schemes, and major concerns about the displacement of tens of thousands
families, as well as the environmental implications of building the dams
at relatively low altitude.
The raising of Roseires is expected to see the resettlement of 22,000
families, which the Minister of Electricity and Dams, Osama Abdullah,
said would prevent them from being affected by the seasonal flooding of
But others say the change will be a traumatic experience for those
forced to move, as with the more than 40,000 people who were ordered to
leave their homes to make way for the Merowe dam and its vast reservoir
three years ago.
In addition, as Verhoeven argues, if such projects had been built on
Ethiopia's stretch of the Blue Nile, at higher altitude, the evaporation
rates would have been seven times lower than in Sudan and caused less
But Sudan appears in no mood to question its projects, and is
negotiating with a another Chinese contractor to build the Kajbar dam
further downstream, on the third cataract of the Nile, at an estimated
cost of $700 million.
Some experts point to another factor motivating Sudan's dam building
strategy, namely concerns about its future allocation of Nile waters.
Upstream countries that share the Nile River basin have demanded the
revision of colonial-era agreements that allot more than 90 percent of
the river's water to Egypt and Sudan and allow Cairo to veto upstream
The revised agreement has been signed by Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda,
Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi and seeks to allow irrigation and
hydroelectric projects to go ahead without downstream consent.
"The sticking point in renegotiating the Nile basin treaty is the
allocation of water quantities," said the environmentalist who asked not
to be named.
"Unlike Egypt, Sudan is not using all of its existing allocation. That
is partly why Sudan is so keen to build new dams. It gives it a stronger
position when they're negotiating the new treaty," he added.
© Copyright AFP 2011.
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