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Ethiopia’s expensive irrigation drive has been hobbled by “glaring flaws” that could render its multi-billion birr hydropower projects wasteful or ineffective, according to the country’s top auditor.

Auditor General Meseret Damite cited numerous issues plaguing dams commissioned over the past decade at enormous cost: improper design, inadequate operating guidelines, below-capacity output and insufficient maintenance procedures.

Meseret told lawmakers some of the troubled projects have resulted in an estimated 320 million birr in “unrealized benefits” due to flood damage and breakdowns – funds that could have been invested elsewhere.

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In her report, Meseret said the four billion birr Tendaho dam has sat idle, unable to irrigate a single sugar cane field from the farm it was commissioned to service a decade ago.

“Government ministers must be held accountable,” Meseret asserted, accusing officials of rushing headlong into dam-building without ensuring the critical irrigation infrastructure was properly managed and maintained.

Ethiopia has constructed several underutilized irrigation dams at great cost to taxpayers.

The Kesem dam cost 2.6 billion birr but irrigates just 2,784 hectares. The Middle Awash dam cost enough to irrigate 120,000 hectares yet remains unused on 5,000 hectares.

Alwero Dam cost 648 million birr but lies idle. Meki Ziway dam was built but requires maintenance.

Gode Dam cost 393 million birr but utilizes only seven percent of its potential. The Rib Dam cost 5.7 billion birr but never provided services.

Omo Kuraz and Tana Beles dams each irrigate only 25-30 percent of their 50,000 hectare potential.

Together, these dams cost at least 14.8 billion birr yet irrigate just a fraction of planned hectares, highlighting poor project planning, oversight and management.

Had each dam achieved just 50 percent utilization, they could have irrigated 118,500 additional hectares, boosting agricultural output, food security and incomes for Ethiopians.

The audit to Parliament detailed billions misspent without proper procedures, including an uncollected 3.2 billion birr irrigation bill shows developers’ unwillingness to pay for services.

Meseret urged Parliament to oversee institutions strictly to ensure funds achieve their goals, maximizing value for taxpayers’ money. With better oversight and management, Ethiopia could realize far more benefits from its huge investments in irrigation infrastructure.

Officials challenged the report of the Auditor General concerning Ethiopia’s many underutilized irrigation dams.

“The problems faced by these projects are multifaceted,” says Buzunesh Tolcha, communications director of the Ministry of Irrigation and Lowland Areas. “Some started without proper feasibility studies and their construction was rushed.”

Buzuneh added that the majority of the dam projects are still active.

“Lack of investors willing to use the dams is also another challenge,” says the Director.

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