Sudanese President Bashir inaugurated two-billion-dollar Chinese-engineered Merowe Dam in northern Sudan
Photo: A member of a disaster management team secures the Merowe Dam as it is inaugurated by Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in northern Sudan, about 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Khartoum, March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra (SUDAN)
Report from AFP 3 March 2009:
Sudan inaugurates massive Nile dam
(MEROWE, Sudan) — Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir inaugurated a massive hydroelectric project on Tuesday that has displaced tens of thousands of people and is the largest to be built on the Nile in 40 years.
The more than two-billion-dollar (1.590-billion-euro) Chinese-engineered Merowe Dam will eventually double Sudan's power capacity to about 1,250 megawatts. Two of its 10 turbines, which were built by French group Alstom, began operations on Tuesday and Beshir has promised cuts in utility bills of 25-30 percent.
It is the biggest such project since the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in the 1950s and was developed by China's CCMD consortium under the supervision of German group Lahmeyer.
In 2006, violent protests by villagers opposed to the dam broke out. Three people were killed and dozens injured. More than 40,000 people were forced to leave their homes to make way for the dam and the vast reservoir that will be formed behind it, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Khartoum.
The government built new villages for the displaced people in the desert, but many of those expelled from their homes refused to move into them.
"There are people who lost everything," said Ali Askuri, a spokesman for the displaced people. "They live like homeless near the reservoir, and do not want to be resettled in the desert."
The dam's inauguration comes on the eve of an announcement by the International Criminal Court on whether it will issue a warrant for Beshir's arrest over alleged war crimes in Darfur.
And thousand of people gathered for the ceremony in an apparent show of support for the president.
Many of them held up posters of Beshir scribbled with the message: "We are with you."
Pictures of ICC prosecutor general Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who recommended last July that the court issue the arrest warrant, were strewn on the ground to be trampled on by the crowd.
"The Western world is targeting Sudan in order to stop... its development projects but we don't absolutely care," Beshir said. "We will respond to all these decisions with new development projects."
In his remarks, Beshir also said that "any decision by the International Criminal Court has no value for us. It will not be worth the ink it is written in."
Despite the six-year-old war in Darfur, China has maintained close relations with Beshir's regime, drawing criticism from international human rights groups.
Photo: Supporters of Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stand below an effigy of International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo during the inauguration of the Merowe Dam by Bashir in northern Sudan, March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra (SUDAN)
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Sudan Hails World's Longest Dam
From Xinhua by Editor Ma Ting 3 March 2009:
Squinting amid the dazzling sunshine on the brink of the Sahara Desert, Asem Khalil Idris tried to get a clear view of President Omar al-Bahir, who was addressing a crowd at the inauguration ceremony for Merowe Dam, the country's largest hydropower project.
"The power from the dam will create a lot of work opportunities," Asem, 39, a local resident coming from the Wadi Halfa town, said on Wednesday morning.
"Before today, We had to rely on diesel-fueled generators, which is noisy and very inconvenient," he said, adding that "we will have a more colorful life with less blackouts thanks to the president and the dam's builders, and the fruit trees and vegetable planted in my town will get the badly-needed irrigation."
As Bashir signed a takeover paper at noon, siren resounded over the huge dam and the vast artificial lake that has moistened the local air over the arid desert, marking the official start of power generation of the project.
The 9.7-km dam is the longest one in the world with a total capacity of 1.25 million kilowatt, twice as much as Sudan's existing power supply.
Wielding his stick, encircled by entourages, Bashir danced to the rhythm of a 30-minute folk song on a table on a improvised platform. The president's trademark style was applauded by a crowd, who raised a forest of arms and chanted religious slogans.
"It's an important day and we got it finally," said Rashid in the crowd, who clapped his hands jubilantly in the crowd as the voluble president made statements and danced. "But I have not decided where to go after the dam."
Rashid, in his forties, a veteran driver, who has worked for CCMD JV, a Chinese joint venture that built the dam, for some five years.
"I hope it's not my last drive to Merowe," Rashid said with a little blue earlier on our way to the remote dam, some 450-km north of the capital city Khartoum.
The SUV took a U-turn at an intersection, where scores of people were standing on the roadside of a small town with various banners in their hands.
"This town is a local tourist attraction," Rashid said, "they are advertising for their town and the banner reads 'great place, good price' in Arabic."
"CCMD (JV) rebuilt the desert road to Merowe for material transportation, and those people want to make more money because it saves a lot of time of the tourists coming from the capital," he said while flooring the accelerator pedal of the vehicle, which rustled through the strong north wind.
"It's a state-of-the-art project," said Wu Xiguo, chief engineer and deputy manager of the dam. "We won the contract at a much reasonable price and finished it on time."
"The biggest challenge is the climate of Merowe," said Wu, who has got a good tan at the dam in the past six years. "The average temperature is about 40 degrees and some of my friends got malaria in the mosquito-ridden area."
"Another problem is the lack of resources," he added, "We came here in July 2003 and found nothing except the river and the infertile Sahara, so we have to import nearly everything, including toothpaste."
He said that the dam's eight 350-ton super cranes, dubbed "Gate Machine" in their jargon, were all shipped from China.
"But it pays, it will stand on the river for at least 100 years and some 4 million Sudanese people, or more than one-tenth of the total population, will benefit from the dam's irrigation system and power supply," he said.