By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 8, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) – Despite long-standing protest against its execution, Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, told the newly appointed Ethiopian ambassador to Sudan, Abadi Zemo, that his country supports the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.
- Planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project (file/AP)
According to a statement from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bashir made the announcement while receiving the new Ethiopian envoy to Sudan in Khartoum, where the two sides also held talks on a number of bilateral issues.
Bashir said his government understands the mutual benefits the project could offer Ethiopia and Sudan and said he will extend the necessary support to ensure the successful completion of the massive hydro-power project.
Ethiopia intends to become a regional power hub by daming the Nile.
Zemo said the historical and cultural ties between Ethiopia and Sudan will be further strengthened.
In 2011 Ethiopia began the construction of the US$4.8 billion dam project on the Blue Nile near the Sudanese border, leading to outcry from the downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt; which had control over most of the water resources using a treaty signed during colonial era.
Egypt and Sudan previously argued that the construction of the dam would negatively affect their water shares and insisted the project should be blocked, calling on international donors against funding it. Ethiopia argued that the project would not have a detrimental affect on Sudan or Egypt, and that it would continue with it, regardless of their reactions.
Following the downfall of the Hosni Mubarak-led Egyptian regime, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia opened a new chapter of cooperation and understanding to resolve their long standing dispute over the use of Nile water and the countries established a tripartite technical committee to assess the possible impacts of the dam.
In January 2011 the committee officially began its assessment.
In recent years, Ethiopia has been investing billions of dollars in building power plants making it an emerging regional power hub.
In February Ethiopia completed a World Bank funded $US41 million power transmission line that links its power grid with neighbouring Sudan enabling the latter to import an initial 100MW of electricity.
Ethiopia currently exports 35MW to Djibouti for US$1.5 million per month.
Ethiopia also plans to export 400MW of hydro-power generated electricity to Kenya by 2016 when a transmission line project is completed. The country has long-term plans to supply power to South Sudan, Tanzania, Somalia, and Yemen.
The non-governmental organisation, International Rivers, expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the project and stated that the "potential for conflict is probably the main reason international funders have shown no interest in supporting the project.”