Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mysterious Lake Threatens Ethiopian Sugar Ambitions

(April 24, 2013, (Bloomberg))--A saline lake in Ethiopia that’s baffled scientists by its 15-fold growth threatens to spill into the nation’s longest river and damage plans by Africa’s biggest coffee grower to become a commodities powerhouse.

Lake Beseka in the Rift Valley has grown to its largest size ever amid irrigation runoff and seismic shifts in past years. Should salt waters contaminate the Awash River, they would 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.

“The fear is for the river,” Water and Energy Ministry groundwater chief Tesfaye Tadesse. “If it discharges by itself without any control, the river is going to be contaminated forever.”

River basins including the Blue Nile and rugged highlands bless Ethiopia with plentiful hydropower and the continent’s second-largest water resources. The government is counting on Indian financing, a Saudi billionaire and Chinese loans to grow sugar, rice, bananas and oranges for export to expand the fastest-growing African economy without oil reserves.

It’s crucial that efforts be made to stop a possible overflow before the seasonal rains start in June, said Endashew Tadesse, a technical specialist at the Upper Awash River Basin Authority. A spill by the lake east of the capital Addis Ababa may flood towns and drive nomadic herdsmen from the area.

Beseka, fed by hot springs at 954 meters (3,130 feet), has swollen from a 3-square-kilometer pond in the 1960s to 45 square kilometers, causing the diversion of a road from Addis Ababa to Djibouti’s port, a main trade route in landlocked Ethiopia.

Frustrated Efforts
Over the past 14 years, the government has unsuccessfully installed pumps and built canals to try to keep Beseka at bay. Read more from Bloomberg » 

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