1 February 2013 – Sudan is undertaking the Roseiris dam project, as the country says it wants to enhance power supply and agricultural irrigation.The dam will also boost power supply at Sudan’s second largest dam, Merowe, some 350 km north of Khartoum, as it benefits from higher Nile water levels.

Merowe is the first, and most important, of a series of 10 dams that are already in operation or under construction in Sudan, or have been approved by the Sudanese government. In many cases, China is playing a decisive role in either the building or financing of the projects.

The importance of the Merowe dam stems from the 1,250 MW generated by its 10 turbines as well as the canal system that will allow the large-scale development of agriculture. In 2008 Sudan’s entire energy consumption was 750 MW and only 15% of the population had access to electricity. Thanks to Merowe, that figure has now risen to 30%.

However, the dam has caused controversy, according to a report in The Telegraph of the UK.

The dam’s critics question its location because of the high rates of evaporation in the area where temperatures can easily reach 50ºC, and more than eight per cent of the water brought into Sudan by the Nile is lost when the river becomes stagnant. Experts point out that if the dam had been built in another location, such as on the Ethiopian side of the Nile, water loss would have been seven times smaller. Another criticism is that studies measuring the environmental and social impact of the dam were carried out after building had already begun.

‘The research was also superficial and incomplete,” says Asim al-Moghrabi, Sudan’s leading environmental expert on the Nile. “’We are repeating the mistakes made in Egypt on the Aswan Dam, which was an ecological disaster.”’ Built in the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam, while reducing flooding and making more land available for agriculture, caused severe degradation in soil quality and erosion of the delta coastline, destroying the lagoons that supported the Egyptian fishing industry.

Marowe has required the relocation of 12,000 families, a total of 96,000 people. The project construction has required 25 million cubic metres of rocks and another million and a half cubic metres of concrete, as well as the use of between 3,000 and 5,000 Chinese workers over six years. Although the structure officially opened three years ago, a contingent of Chinese workers is still finishing off minor building works.