Ethiopia Blue Nile dams

Back in 2009, they were to be the two biggest dams in all of Africa. At 2,000 megawatts each, the Mandaya and the Beko-Abo hydropower projects on the Ethiopian Blue Nile, dwarfed anything that had been built in Norway, which was providing aid financing for pre-feasibility studies, or anywhere else on the continent.

But in March 2011, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced plans to build the Grand Renaissance dam, a 5,000 megawatt colossus on the Blue Nile River near the border with Sudan. Not only will Grand Renaissance be much larger than the two projects upstream. Norway realised quickly that the big dam would flood the site of Mandaya, rendering the project obsolete. All work on both projects was immediately stopped and the Norwegian support to Ethiopian hydropower development of the Blue Nile has been in limbo since then.

A highly politicised prestige project of the late Prime Minister, few technical details are available about the Grand Renaissance project. It is known that it will flood a huge area in Ethiopian territory, necessitating substantial resettlement. It is clear that it will be necessary to reduce massively the flow of the river, which flows north into Egypt, for as many as seven years while the reservoir is being filled up. Development Today revealed that Norwegian engineers working on the pre-feasibility studies for Mandaya and Beko-Abo advised the Ethiopian government that Grand Renaissance was not the best technical solution. They recommended lowering the height and scale of the project and starting instead by developing the river farther upstream first. This, they said, would be cheaper, it would generate more electricity in total and it would reduce the impacts.

Plans for the high dam have gone ahead. On May 28, 2013, Ethiopia’s national day, a ceremony was held to mark the start of work on diversion of the Blue Nile waters.

Read Development Today’s coverage of the Norwegian Blue Nile engagement:

Norwegian financing for studies of two mega-dams in Ethiopia
Development Today Nr 18/2010 December 2, 2010

High dams in Ethiopia put Nile cooperation to the test
Development Today Nr 19/2010 December 20, 2010

Norplan proposes alternative site for Ethiopian high dam
Development Today Nr 20/2010 December 30, 2010

Norwegian hydropower actors eye burgeoning Ethiopian market
Development Today Nr 2/2011 March 3, 2011

Sudan and Egypt to bear brunt of impacts from Ethiopian mega-dam
Development Today Nr 3/2011 March 28, 2011

Ethiopia’s hydro ambitions leave Norwegian aid project in shambles
Development Today Nr 8/2011 June 22, 2011

Nile Basin donors stunned by Ethiopia’s unilateral move
Development Today Nr 9-10/2011 July 08, 2011

Blue Nile dams: ‘lower Renaissance Dam to save Mandaya’
Development Today Nr 11/2011 September 04, 2011

Ethiopia becomes major Norwegian recipient in Africa
Development Today Nr 18/2012 December 22, 2011

What Norway wants in Ethiopia
Development Today Nr 3/2012 May 8, 2012

Reviving support for Blue Nile mega-dams
Development Today Nr 4-5/2013 April 30, 2013

Addis impatient for decision on aid for Blue Nile dams
Development Today Nr 9-10/2013 September 2, 2013