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Ethiopia has launched its biggest ever irrigation project over the Nile River after receiving US$100 million from the World Bank. The project is going ahead despite disapproval from Egypt, which is against such activities along the Nile.
It will become Ethiopia’s biggest water project along the Nile alongside the Great Renaissance Dam hydro power dam project.
Construction of the Renaissance Dam, which will boost Ethiopia’s electricity exports in the region, sparked a diplomatic row with Egypt over the use of the Nile’s water.
Hayalsew Yilma, the programme coordinator in the Ethiopian ministry of Water and Energy on Tuesday said a feasibility study and detailed design works for the Megech-Seraba and Ribb irrigation project were now complete.
The project is expected to 100,000 hectares of land in the Horn of Africa country’s Nile Basin.
The World Bank approved a loan of US$ 100 million in 2008 to help the country increase its agricultural productivity, accelerate growth and reduce rural poverty.
About 20,000 hectares of land will be put under irrigation with water from Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake, and the Ribb River.
The country also aims to irrigate another 20,000 hectares of land to boost agricultural production by subsistence farmers, in northwestern Ethiopia, in order to enable them sell to surplus crops.
Studies are currently being conducted for an additional 97,000 hectares of land to be put under irrigation.
Lake Tana is the biggest source of water for the Nile River, which runs through nine African countries
Meanwhile, Egypt has expressed its concern on all projects that seek to use the Nile River arguing that colonial-era agreements with the British signed in the 1920s and 1950s still stand.
But analysts say Egypt has changed its tone, choosing to negotiate, since Ethiopia launched Africa’s biggest dam over the Nile River.
The Renaissance hydro-electric project will generate around 5,250 MW of power by 2015.
Egypt and Ethiopia have held high level discussions on the use of the Nile River over the past couple of months during which Ethiopia has, reportedly, sought to assure its northern neighbour that none of the projects over the Nile will negatively impact the Nile Basin countries.
But Egypt says it will closely monitor the projects.
Nile Basin countries
Ethiopia and other riparian countries that form part of the Nile Basin, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, are pushing for equity sharing of the river.
Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, last year signed a cooperative framework agreement for an equitable use of the river and strip Egypt and Sudan of their veto rights.
For several decades, Egypt held veto rights over all upstream projects using powers granted by a 1929 colonial-era treaty with Britain.
A latter deal between Egypt and Sudan in 1959 gave the two downstream countries more than 90 percent control of the Nile.
Ethiopia’s decision to undertake development projects on the Nile was encouraged by the cooperative framework agreement which was signed by a majority of the Nile Basin countries.
The Ethiopian government has also held discussions with the newly independent state of South Sudan seeking its approval for the projects.
Although South Sudan has been non committal on the matter, it is likely to support Ethiopia’s stance because of the strong ties that now exist between the two countries.
In the meantime, Hayalsew has announced that Ethiopia is “looking to hire a contractor to start the project implementation phase” of the irrigation project.
Feasibility studies for Megech-Robit, Negeso and Upper Beles irrigation projects to develop an additional 80,000 hectares of land have also been finalised.
There were reports that the irrigation projects will increase the country’s agricultural productivity six fold and ensure its sustainable economic growth.
In addition to the World Bank loan, government has allocated some US$10 million for the irrigation projects.
Ethiopia recently launched a five-year growth and transformation plan that aims to multiply irrigated land by five to about 10,000 hectares by mid-2015.
As much as 2.2 million hectares of Ethiopia’s 3.7 million hectares of irrigable land is in the Nile Basin, according to a study by the Horn of Africa country’s government.
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