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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid