Following the formation of the new government, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed prominent former Water and Irrigation Minister, Seleshi Bekele (PhD), as Chief Negotiator and Advisor on Transboundary Rivers and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In his place, the new cabinet saw the replacement of minister Seleshi by former Oromia Region Water Bureau Head, Habtamu Itefa Geleta (PhD), who became the Minister of Water and Energy.
Capital caught up with Habtamu, for insights on the newly reformed and revitalized Ministry which he now heads. Excerpts;
Capital: Under the formation of the new government, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Energy was split into two ministerial offices, that is, the Ministry of Water and Energy and the Ministry of Irrigation and Low Land Environment. What kind of organizational difference does this present?
Habtamu Itefa: As a nation, the country has set a ten-year national perspective plan in every sector for its sustainable growth. Moreover, there have been needs and requests from citizens for the government to address specific issues at hand affecting the community. Therefore, in order to address these issues and for the overall success of the ten-year plan, there was a need for reform in the organizational structure within the ministry as result the ministry was further divided to tackle these issues specifically with the urgency that it deserves.
For us, we have tried to reform and reorganize all of the ministerial offices and responsible institutions, and the former Water Irrigation and Energy Ministry is one of these ministries’ offices. The former ministry used to have three different objectives which include: Water Resource Management which is managing and administering all of our water resources including our lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Additionally, this objective encompasses catchments and basin developments and the use of this water to generate hydropower and production of clean and potable water for drinking and for irrigation.
With regards to irrigation, our Prime Minister echoed that for us as a country to build a better future the overall irrigation system needs to grow. As a result of supporting this initiative and with the need to support and enhance the overall irrigation system, a separate ministry under the emblem of the Ministry of Irrigation and Low Land Environment was formed.
After the division, the mandates of the water and energy ministry will be related to water and energy in broad. One of our mandates includes: water and sanitation and adding sanitation is crucial because only providing water without protecting and cleaning the environment is useless.
Our ministry will work on leading, managing, and driving policies as well as facilitate and perform projects that fall under our jurisdiction.
Under us, fall institutes or agencies that beef up the ministry. These include the Ethiopian Water Technology Institute and, in this reform, we are working to make it a research institute that supports each and every farmer and household to save water and use it for a long time.
The other institution is the Ethiopia Metrology Agency which is now changed to an institute that will continue its service on informing on the weather condition of the country.
Capital: What is your Ministry’s Ten-Year plan?
Habtamu Itefa: Our ten-year plan is designed in a way that will see us go from strength to strength. For example, in the energy sector for the next ten years, we are planning to reach an electricity coverage of 100 percent. Moreover, with regards to water, we are aiming to increase clean and potable water to 80 percent and develop a better sanitation system. Currently, the overall national coverage of clean and potable water is around 54 percent which varies from place to place.
The other main plan is to identify and know our water resources and coordinate information for the development of the corresponding projects.
In the past three years, we have planted more than 15 billion trees under the national greening initiative which will have a positive impact on increasing the water resource. Hence one of our ten years plans is minimizing water problems in the dry season. Additionally, we will work aggressively to increase and develop our drainage system.
Capital: What are the challenges you are facing in developing projects?
Habtamu Itefa: One of the big challenges is the capacity to develop projects. Such projects need huge investment costs and foreign currency and acquiring materials and supplies tend to lag the progress of projects.
Finance will always play a pivotal part in any project, ours included. Apart from investment constraints, organization capacity and poor institutional performance are some of the hurdles we have to overcome for the success of our projects.
However, on the bright side as a solution we are trying to take different initiatives, for example in solving the shortage of water, rainwater harvesting is seen as a viable solution. We are promoting storing this water for the dry season. Of course, this initiative does not need investment except human power and some technology.
We are also tackling the challenges on a technological front by providing systems that can protect and minimize wastage and evaporation of water and the designs are being made to make this a standard technology. Similarly, we are looking into technology that can pump water which has a low cost of maintenance.
Locally, we are also developing and promoting an innovative technology that can fetch underground water.
Capital: Several solar projects have been started. What is the current status of these projects?
Habtamu Itefa: Yes, there are a number of ongoing off-grid solar projects which have been developed to benefit places where electricity is inaccessible. From these solar projects, some are started by the federal government while others are built by regional governments.
With regards to the status of the projects, the regional governments have better progress whilst the national ones are slightly being derailed by certain issues.
Capital: The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is currently one of the debated issues in the world. As Ministry of Water and Energy, what is the current progress and updates of the dam?
Habtamu Itefa: GERD is a national flagship project which is a wealth of all Ethiopians. The dam has the power to decide the future of the country and is a big hope for Ethiopians. This is why most of our international enemies are trying to stop us from building and benefiting from our resources.
Currently, as we all know we have completed the second filling successfully as per the schedule and the next is the pre-power generation which will kick start in a few months. We are doing a lot of works in this regard and when the generation begins it will be announced to the public. Side by side we will continue in the successful completion of this project.
Additional to this, we will also continue developing other alternative power sources and increase our benefit from the GERD.
Capital: What about the negotiations on the matter? What do you expect for the future?
Habtamu Itefa: Currently the negotiation is not active since we have already done the filling. Of course, in the near future, we expect certain incidents to occur.
For example, the instability of Sudan and its suspension from the African Union could have its own effect and so on. So, to solve such incidents we are working and organizing different platforms at different levels.
Capital: What’s your view of the intervention made by the US on the issue?
Habtamu Itefa: The US is saying Ethiopia is blocking the water but our aim is not to block the water. Far from it we want to mutually benefit from the water source and we do not seek to take away any benefits from Egypt and Sudan.
On our side, apart from the dam, we are also taking initiative by planting trees so as to protect our water resources.
I see opposing the building of the dam as opposing the economic growth and development of the country. The dam benefits both Sudan and Egypt, especially Sudan the dam is multi-beneficiary, for example, it will minimize the flood in the rainy season and increase the flow of the water in the dry season which is beneficial for the irrigation system. The international community should understand this.
Capital: Is there any document you are preparing to administer Trans Boundary Rivers?
Habtamu Itefa: We understand that naturally, Ethiopia is rich in its water resource perhaps the geographical location of the country made these rivers flow to neighboring countries. The issue here is the Blue Nile which we have an issue with Sudan and Egypt.
We don’t have any issue with other neighboring countries, yet Egyptians are trying to provoke with various threats.
However, to combat this, we are working to establish one section under the ministry which includes all the stakeholders. We plan to engage them to manage such issues and solve them peacefully.
Capital: Are there any other mega hydropower projects that are in the works?
Habtamu Itefa: Yes, there are projects for which we have started their evaluation studies and we will announce it when it is concluded.
Capital: What are you doing to increase the engagement of the private sector?
Habtamu Itefa: Most of the time the private sector participates in handling the construction and also in consultation. As I previously explained, these projects need huge investment and the private sector needs to profit as they have poured huge amounts of money in investment. There also need to be an established trust with the government, and we are providing channels to build this by attracting the private sector, and soon a number of private sectors will get to work with us on different schemes.
Capital: Do you think the national greening initiative is impactful?
Habtamu Itefa: Yes, I believe it’s very impactful. It plays a huge role in conservation and more than 85 percent of the plants have matured which have been planted in the past three years. Moreover, when these plants grow it will minimize the soil that is washed away from the upper basin to the downstream thus creating a comfortable environment.
In the long term it will have a big impact in increasing our water resource. Even for the GERD, the plantation could decrease the sediments which have an impact on the volume of the dam since it contributes significantly to soil erosion. When the dam is complete we will fully know the overall technical impacts.
Capital: Is there anything you want to add?
Habtamu Itefa: I want to add two things. One is that we should all see ourselves as ambassadors on water issues, including our mega projects like GERD, we should also protect our water resources in this regard. Media should also play a big role in creating awareness of the same.
Regarding energy, it needs huge financial backing and manpower. To this end, we are working to engage powerful investors in its growth as a sector that will contribute to the overall growth of the country.
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