Ethiopia Aims to Lift Itself Out of Poverty by Damming the Blue Nile
The Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana and winds its way through a series of dramatic waterfalls and steep gorges carved into the country’s highlands. Finally it descends to the plains of Sudan, joining the White Nile in Khartoum to create the mighty river that feeds a third country, Egypt. It is the seasonal rainfall of Ethiopia’s highlands that have, for millennia, swelled the Nile with its life-giving floods. Unlike its downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia has never attempted to monetize its share of the Nile through dams. Until now. In an audacious undertaking, the Ethiopian government has begun constructing Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam, a 1.1-mile-long behemoth that will, when completed in 2017, be able to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than tripling the country’s output. An adjacent dam, nearly three miles long, will help create a reservoir big enough to contain the Blue Nile’s entire annual flow. Ethiopia’s former Emperor Haile Selassie first had the idea of building a dam on the Blue Nile in 1964, but regional bickering over water rights, followed by civil war, a Marxist coup and a devastating famine that killed nearly a million people in the 1980s, meant the plan was put on hold. It wasn’t until 2011 that then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced plans for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as part of the country’s ambitious plan to leap from extreme poverty to middle-income status by 2025. In Ethiopia, where 4 of 5 residents have no electricity, power is seen as the key to economic progress.
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