Tekeze Dam, Ethiopia

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“Tekeze Dam is for Ethiopia what Three Gorges is for China.” So spoke Sun Yue, Director of the international department of the state-owned China Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation (Sinohydro). And at 185 meters (ten meters higher than the Three Gorges Dam), the Tekeze Dam, built on a tributary of the Nile, promises to bring the kinds of serious environmental and social problems that Three Gorges planners are only now beginning to recognize.

In addition to the familiar environmental problems associated with large dams, such as altered hydrology and threatened fisheries , Tekeze will also completely change the face of one of Africa’s deepest canyons. The deepness of the canyon walls will likely contribute to major sedimentation at the dam site once the region is flooded. Since the start of construction, a massive landslide has already occurred near the dam site on April 2008, forcing developers to spend an additional US$42 million on retaining walls to keep back the eroding slopes.

The siltation will also likely reduce the capacity and lifespan of the dam, leading to reductions in irrigation and economic growth. The rural poor will not benefit from the dam project either, since the power generated will go mainly to large cities or sold to neighboring countries with more developed industries. Local and international groups like Bread for the World recommend an alternative development plan for Ethiopia that includes small and medium dams, afforestation and hill terracing, and development of alternative energy sources, in order to both sustainably tap the natural resources and equitably distribute its benefits.

The Tekeze Dam was built to generate 300 MW of electricity, but climate change could dramatically reduce its ouput. Funding for the estimated US$224 million project is currently being supplied by a joint venture company composed of Chinese and African sources: Sinohydro (49%), China Gezhouba Water and Power Group Ltd (30%), and Sur Construction (21%). Construction is undertaken by major Chinese companies such as Sinohydro, China Gezhouba Water and Power Group Ltd, and Sinohydro. Tunnel construction began in August 2007, and one of the four planned turbines will be operational by the end of 2008.

Ethiopia’s Water Dilemma, a report by Uwe Hoering (June 2006)

What Cost Ethiopia’s Dam Boom? a 2008 report by International Rivers

Geological Phenomena Cost EEPCo 400 Million Birr, Walta Information Center

Photos of Tekeze Dam under construction