May 1 - The Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile has brought Ethiopia to the brink of war with Egypt and as Sonia Legg reports it's also a massive financial gamble.
It's only a quarter complete and won't be finished until 2016 at the earliest. But the impact of the Grand Renaissance Dam is already being felt. Ethiopia - one of the world's poorest countries - is funding the project on a Nile tributary in the Guba Valley - without any outside investment. At 145 metres high the dam will be continent's largest. It will create a lake 246 kilometres long and its turbines will throw out 6,000 megawatts of electricity - more than any other hydropower project in Africa. It will cost $4 billion to complete and $1.5 billion has already been spent. Italian builders Salini Impregilo say all bills have been paid on time so far. But going it alone financially is a gamble. There are signs Ethiopia's near double digit growth rate is being slowed as private sector investment dries up. The project's managing engineer, though, is confident it will soon pay its way, producing 750 megawatts of electricity by the end of the year. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GREAT ETHIOPIAN RENAISSANCE DAM PROJECT MANAGER ENGINEER, SIMEGNEW BEKELE SAYING: "We are on the right bank exactly the place where the dam is being built or constructed or built so what you are looking in front is the dam blocks. It means, we have already started the construction of the roller compacted concrete dam." The project brought Ethiopia to the brink of war last year as Egypt claimed it had exclusive rights to control the Nile's waters. Sudan - the other major down-river country - was their ally at first. But it's now beginning to see the benefit of cheap power and irrigation water. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) GREAT ETHIOPIAN RENAISSANCE DAM PROJECT MANAGER ENGINEER SIMEGNEW BEKELE SAYING: "We have friends in Egypt and we have brothers in the Sudan, we have sisters in your country. So we consider this project as people of the globe project being built in Ethiopia." The potential economic benefits for Ethiopia longer term are certainly great. One government report predicts the dam will have a 37,000 megawatt capacity within 25 years. The entire output of sub-Saharan Africa - excluding South Africa - is currently only 28,000. That opens up the prospect of spare capacity for export. And that may interest many countries currently seeking alternative energy supplies.