ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An independent panel of experts has concluded that the country's multi-billion dollar hydropower dam being built on the Nile River will not significantly affect Sudan and Egypt, countries that are highly dependent on the water of the world's longest river, said an Ethiopian official.
The Ethiopian official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the topic, said late Saturday that the final report by the panel of experts — which included representatives from Egypt and Sudan — concluded after a yearlong study that the dam's construction meets international standards.
Egypt in the past has threatened to go to war over its "historic rights" to Nile River water but diplomats from both countries this week played down the potential for conflict over the construction of the dam.
Ethiopia on Tuesday started diverting the flow of the Nile to make way for its $4.2 billion (80 billion Ethiopian Birr) hydroelectric plant dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project is currently about 21 percent complete, he said.
The experts' report was submitted to the three countries on Friday, the official said.
The experts, especially from Egypt, expressed concerns on the possible environmental impacts of the dam, recommending a further extensive environmental impact assessment study, he said.
Another concern is the safety of the dam, the official said, though the major concern remains whether the flow of the river will be affected to by filling the dam's reservoir
The Ethiopian Ministry of Water and Energy said it will carefully consider recommendations of additional assessments and proposals "that would help the basin countries benefit better from the dam."
The dam has been under construction for over two years on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia's Benishangul-Gumuz region near a Sudanese border.
On completion it is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts which will make it Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant. It is also expected to have a large reservoir of around 70 billion cubic meters which is scheduled to start filling next year.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu told the Associated Press that Egypt should not worry about a diminished water share from the Nile.
"We don't have any irrigation projects around the dam . the dam is solely intended for electricity production ... So there should not be any concerns about a diminished water flow," Alemayehu told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"Even during the period when we would be filling the reservoir, we are going to employ a careful and scientific water impounding technique to make sure the normal flow is not significantly affected," the minister added.
Eighty-five percent of Nile waters originate in Ethiopia yet the East African nation thus far utilizes very little of those waters and the country has become synonymous with famine.
Ethiopia's decision to construct the dam challenges a colonial-era agreement that had given downstream Egypt and Sudan rights to the Nile water, with Egypt taking 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters of 84 billion cubic meters, with 10 billion lost to evaporation. That agreement, first signed in 1929, took no account of the eight other nations along the 6,700-kilometer (4,160-mile) river and its basin, which have been agitating for a decade for a more equitable accord.
And Ethiopia's unilateral action seems to ignore the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative to promote cooperation.
Ethiopia is leading six nations threatening to sign a new cooperation agreement without Egypt and Sudan, effectively taking control from Egypt of the Nile, which serves some 238 million people.
Ethiopia says it is funding the massive project on its own, urging citizens to buy bonds that earn 5 or 6 percent interest. Norway's Development Today magazine quoted Kjetil Tronvoll of Oslo's International Law and Policy Institute as saying that government employees are being pressed to donate one month's salary to the dam and, when people protested, they were arrested.
A journalist who wrote an article criticizing the fundraising methods, Reeyot Alemu, was arrested, tried for terrorism and sentenced to two years' jail, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ethiopian authorities have detained another reporter for covering evictions near the construction of a massive hydroelectric, the CPJ said Thursday.
AP writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Johannesburg.