News / Africa

Tunnel Collapse Closes Ethiopia's New Hydropower Project

Ethiopia's newest and biggest hydroelectric power station has been shut down due to a tunnel collapse weeks after its official opening. The hydropower project has been surrounded by controversy since its inception.   

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pushed a button last month symbolically opening the Gilgel Gibe Two hydropower station. The 420 megawatt project, southwest of Addis Ababa, would increase Ethiopia's electricity generation capacity by 38 percent.

The opening ceremony was broadcast live on Ethiopian television, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was there. Italy helped finance the $600 million project, which was constructed by the Italian hydropower firm Salini.

But 10 days after the inauguration, Italian public television  reported Gilgel Gibe Two had been forced to shut down. It said the closure was due to a collapse in a 26 kilometer long tunnel that shoots water to the station's four massive turbines from a dam on the Omo River far above.

Officials of Salini and the Ethiopia Electric Power Corporation refused to comment. But a statement posted on the Salini website refers to "an unforeseen geological event" that provoked a cave-in and a huge rock fall involving about 15 meters of the tunnel.

The statement notes Gilgel Gibe was built in Africa's Great Rift Valley, and refers to the tunnel as an "outstanding engineering achievement" because it cuts through "complex geological formations."  

The statement says Gilgel Gibe will be out of operation for two months.

Critics such as Caterina Amicucci of the watchdog group Campaign for Reform of the World Bank says Gilgel Gibe has been surrounded by controversy since Salini was awarded a no-bid contract in 2004. In a telephone interview from Rome, Amicucci alleged the contract violates both Italian and Ethiopian laws, and was awarded without adequate feasibility studies or required environmental permits.

"All the area is a seismic area," said Caterina Amicucci. "It's a fault. The whole Rift Valley is a huge fault.  So the tunnel crosses 26 different fault points, and it seems that this is one of the main problems. All of these elements, they were not highlighted in the environmental impact assessment studies."

Amicucci says contracts for hydropower projects usually assign responsibility for failures to the construction firm. In this case, however, she says an exception was made because of the geological risk, leaving Ethiopia's government responsible for the cost of repairs.

Amicucci says more investigation is needed to determine whether the collapse was due to an 'unforeseen geologic event', as the company says, or something else.

"They are saying this is a geological problem, but this is not sure. It's not clear exactly what is the cause," she said. "What is the reason behind this collapse of the tunnel? If it's a problem of the quality of the infrastructure, or if there is an external problem due to the geological configuration of the area."

The tunnel collapse has at least temporarily halted Ethiopia's plans to solve its chronic power shortage and become an exporter of electricity to other power hungry countries in East Africa.

Salini is already working on Gilgel Gibe Three, a 240-meter-high dam with more than four times the generating capacity of Gilgel Gibe Two. The company says Gilgel Gibe Three is about one-third complete.
 
Critics, however, are urging a closer look at its environmental impact, and urging international financial institutions not to fund its completion.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid