The broad shouldered hills echoed a low rumble as explosives tore through the grooved walls of a canyon carved by the torrential flow of the most important tributary of Africa’s greatest river. Men in hard hats scurried across the vast construction site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam that, once complete, will harness the Blue Nile to crank out 6,000 MW of electricity for this energy-starved nation.
The Blue Nile escapes Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands, tumbling thousands of metres westwards through narrow gorges, carrying 86 per cent of the Nile’s eventual flow. At Khartoum, in Sudan, the river joins the White Nile and heads north through the Egyptian desert and drains into the Mediterranean Sea through the Nile Delta that nourishes 60 per cent of Egypt’s estimated 85 million people.
Last month, the construction crew in Ethiopia diverted the course of the river to lay the foundation of the dam, triggering protests in Egypt and unnerving Mohamed Morsy’s embattled government. Once complete, the Renaissance dam shall stand 145 m tall at the head of a 74 billion cubic metre (bcm) reservoir, a volume greater than the Blue Nile’s annual flow.