(CNN) — The waters of the Blue Nile have for millennia flowed down from the Ethiopian highlands enriching the countries on its banks.
The rocks that make up its riverbed have been eroded by Ethiopia’s past and now that the construction of Africa’s largest hydro-electric dam has begun, these same rocks are helping to build the country’s future.
The Grand Renaissance Dam project was announced last year by the Ethiopian government, in a unilateral move that is not sitting very well with its upstream neighbors. Egypt and Sudan say Ethiopia is threatening their greatest natural resource.
“It’s not very easy to build a project of this magnitude in a remote area,” explains Francesco Verdi, who oversees this project for Salini, the Italian construction firm that has been contracted by the Ethiopians to build the dam.
According to Verdi, 10% of the dam has been completed so far and teams are working day and night to stay on schedule.
“This is one of the largest dams in the world,” Verdi says.
“The effort of this country is really, really impressive. They will produce clean energy using natural resources.”
If construction stays on schedule the dam will be complete in six years. Ethiopia says the dam will generate 6,000 mega watts of electricity and it will sell a proportion of that to its neighbors and use the rest to fuel its own growth.
Semegnew Bekele is the Ethiopian engineer in charge of overseeing this mammoth project. He has worked on three other dams in Ethiopia, but this will be his and his country’s first attempt at damming the Blue Nile.
“This Nile river originates from our country and flows without giving any benefit to us so now we are able to utilize this river,” he explains.
Meeting Bekele, it becomes obvious that this project is a source of immense personal and national pride and in Ethiopia at least he has become a bit of a celebrity — he regularly gets stopped in the street by people congratulation him on the dam and asking how it is progressing.
It might be a source of pride for Bekele and Ethiopia, but for Egypt and Sudan this project is deeply contentious.
Egypt with its population time bomb is particularly worried — nearly 85% of its water originates in Ethiopia. Egyptians say they will not be held hostage over water, explains Yarcob Arsarno, who is an expert on hydro-politics at Addis Ababa University.
“Sudan and Egypt have got their concerns. Building a huge project on the water that goes down to Sudan, they would think that water would be controlled by Ethiopia and Ethiopia would be much more powerful in terms of influence in the Nile basin.”
The Nile Treaty that is meant to govern the use of the Blue Nile between the three nations was in fact signed by colonial powers in the region. Ethiopia says it never signed the agreement and the so-called Nile Basin Initiative only provides a framework for the use of the Nile waters. READ MORE on CNN