Special report| Ethiopian Sugar Corporation’s “May Day Dam”

[HornAffairs staff Fetsum Berhane visited the project sites of Ethiopian Sugar Corporation this month. This is the first of his series of reports on the mega projects]

The construction of the May Day dam, a massive dam being built for irrigation of the Welkait sugar plantation, in Tigrai region, is now 30% complete.

A visit to the site by HornAffairs confirmed the completion of “the coffer dam”, which is part of the main dam that serves as a barrier between the main dam and the river.

May Day irrigation dam is being built on Zarema River, which joins Mereb River, a tributary of Blue Nile River. Zarema River is one of the four rivers that border the “Waldeba monastery’’ which is considered a holy land and believed to be a land designated not “to be tilled” by God.

The dam was named May Day to commemorate the area that served as a cadre and military training ground for TPLF, one of the member parties of the ruling coalition, exactly 23 years ago.

Ethiopia, Tigrai - Wolkait Sugar Project, May Day Dam (under construction)
Wolkait Sugar Project, May Day Dam (under construction)

The construction of the dam on the river met a strong opposition from one of the two main Monks’ associations and other influential religious groupings.

(Horn affairs will present you the background and the current status of the Waldeba controversy in our upcoming series on sugar mega projects of the nation.)

The May Day dam is the main part of the Welkayt sugar mill project, which is one of the 5 mega projects of the government in its bid to become one of the top ten sugar exporters in the world.

The Welkayt sugar project is expected to produce 484,000 tons of sugar per year, almost equal to the current national consumption of 500,000 tons.

The dam is designed to be 147 meters high – which is about the height of Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – and 860 meters long with a water storage capacity of 3.5 billon m3.

The reservoir of the dam will cover about 9,000 hectares (ha) of land and is expected to irrigate 50,000 ha sugarcane plantation using only 25-30% of its water stock leaving enough water stock for year round fishing and transportation activities.

The construction of the dam was started in November 2012, but was delayed for a year due to design problems faced by the Federal Water Works Enterprise according to the project manager Ato Amenay Mesfin. Subsequently, a revised design was prepared by an Italian firm and the construction resumed with a local contractor, Sur Construction, in January 2014.

Diversion of the river, removal of loose soil and construction of the coffer dam were completed just five months before the arrival of the summer flood. The completion of this phase made possible the construction of the main dam without risk of damage. The dam is expected to be fully completed in the next three years, with filling of the reservoir planned to be conducted simultaneously.

Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.

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