risk Ethiopia’s oldest state-owned sugar estate and an India-funded project downstream that’s key to the government’s $5 billion plan to turn the country into a top sugar exporter.
School SubmergedAny saline spill also jeopardizes Ethiopia government plans to develop the Afar area including building a sugar crusher at Tendaho, whose plantation will use water from a dam on the Awash to produce as much as 600,000 tons of cane a year.
“If it rains, it’s over,” Endashew said in an interview at an office near a school submerged two years ago by the lake.
Its pace of growth has increased since the regional government began constructing the Fantalle canal for a 467 million-birr irrigation project in 2008 following a drought, said Engida Zemedagegnehu, a hydrogeology manager at the Ethiopian Water Works Design & Supervision Enterprise.
Even with runoff from farms a probable cause of the lake’s increasing rate of growth, “our efforts to pump more water didn’t reduce the expansion,” Tesfaye said. The river contains 4 percent lake water and any more could be ruinous, he said.
Whatever the reason for the swelling, “the lake has potential to flow to Awash River and devastate Metahara Sugar Estate in the next few years,” professor Megersa said. “It would then also negatively impact all downstream irrigation developments in the Awash basin, including Tendaho.”
Thorn TreesBeyond Tendaho, state-owned Sugar Corp. is building 10 refineries, including six for the Kuraz Sugar Project in the South Omo region near Kenya. It’s working too in the Awash area with China National Complete Plant Import & Export Corp., or Complant, on the Kessem sugar project. The $150 million Kessem is funded by state-owned Development Bank of China.
Sugar Corp. managers didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls to spokesman Yilma Tibebu seeking comment since March 16.
From Metahara, the 1,200-kilometer Awash, which originates in Ethiopia’s highlands, flows northeast into Afar before drying near Djibouti. The area is studded with thorn trees and hot rocky outcrops inhabited by about 1.5 million people.
The Afar, primarily nomadic herders that carry long, curved daggers in sheaves on their hips, drink the river water, as do livestock. The effect of contamination on those that use the river would be “terrible,” Megersa said.
A group of experts and officials are studying the lake and will advise on how to deal with its growth, Tesfaye said. “For the time being, we don’t have a very good direction on what action we should take,” he said.