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Rejuvenating the GERD
From left: Abraham Belay (PhD), CEO of EEP confers with Silehi Bekele (PhD), Minister of water, Irrigation and Energy over the renewed schedule to finalize the GERD

Rejuvenating the GERD

Launched in 2011 with a plan to be finalized in five years, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) still has four more years to go before completion marking 11 years, if not more.

Consuming 98 billion birr against the initial total budget of 80 billion birr; the dam’s 25 percent work is that of hydraulic steel structures and electromechanical works. Hired for this task is the porous Metals and Engineering Corporation (MetEC), which received 65 percent payment. MetEC has been accused of delaying the project and compromising its quality. Out of the 65 percent of the total construction work, the civil engineering component is undertaken by the Italian company, Salini Impreglio, which has finalized 82 percent of its work.

According to Sileshi Bekele (PhD), Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, the complex and most challenging part of the dam project mostly is the hydraulic steel structures and building the electromechanical components severely delaying the course of the construction of the dam. “Needless bravado was devoted,” the minister said while outlining the failures encountered during the undertaking of the project.

Kifle Horo (Eng.), chief engineer and general manager of the dam project, said that what has been done so far requires a series of checkups and testing. Some samples of welded steel structures, hydraulic and electromechanical works has required to be sent-out for laboratory testing before fittings of the turbines and engines that will be used for power generation.

Kifle, who is the successor to the late general manager of the dam, Simegnew Bekele (Eng.), said that within two years, the early power generation phase of the project will be finalized. Hence, some 750 megawatt of electric power is going to be generated. Accordingly, the remaining works of the dam will entirely be finalized within four years’ time, by the end of 2022, Kifle said.

Coupled with the recent devaluation of the birr but mostly due to severe lack of project management, the dam project so far has expended 98 billion birr. “How much more is needed to finalize the remaining 35 percent of the work is yet to be disclosed,” Kifle said. According to the Minister, the opportunity cost of the delay is estimated to reach USD 800 million, annually.

Currently, the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) has assumed the overall mandate of the dam project activities. Abraham Belay (PhD), chief executive officer of EEP said that a new and well guided project management system has been employed. Quality assuring procedures have been put in place. However, according to the chief engineer, chain of investigations and inspections on what has been done and built over the years is an ongoing activity. All the previous jobs MetEC has been assigned to do have been nullified for now. Abraham and the rest of the officials argued that the construction activities of the dam never discontinued despite some delays. “Previously, when MetEC was part of project, the delay was unavoidable. In addition, during the course of the civil work, a naturally unforeseen huge cave was encountered which forced the dam to face major delays,” Abraham said.   

Roman Gebreselassie, head for the Office of the National Public Participation Council for the dam, said that so far the public has contributed 12.3 billion birr, 15 percent from the expected 20 percent of contributions. This Ethiopian fiscal year alone, close to 348 million birr was fed into the dam project.  The diaspora communities have contributed close to USD 45.5 million.

Following the death of the previous chief engineer of the dam and the grand corruption crackdown against MetEC officials, together with the hugely perceived external pressure which many felt came from Egypt also deterred the level of the construction of the dam. Critics of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) did not like his leniency towards the Egyptian government. However, the minister disregards such concerns mentioning the tripartite negotiation process has now reached a state of terms whether the dam should be filled within the range of four to seven years period.

“There are three scenarios to that. What should be the flow of the water from the Nile– once power is generated – would be determined based on modeled scenarios: the amount of water discharged during the drought year, the amount released during the flood year and the amount of water released at a medium range of the water flow and volume should be scientifically determined and negotiated to reach final and binding terms,” Sileshi noted.