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WRITTEN BY  KALEYESUS BEKELE, The Reporter

The Ethiopian government has suspended the multibillion dollar Ethio-Turkish industrial zone development project being undertaken on the outskirts of Addis Ababa near Sendafa town due a potential threat posed at the Legedadi Dam and Water Treatment Plant as a result of the construction of the industrial zone.

The Turkish construction firm and industrial zone developer, Akgün Group, signed an agreement with the Ethiopian government in 2009 that enables it to develop an international industrial zone in the Oromia Regional State near Sendafa town, 35 km north of Addis Ababa. Akgün secured one million sq. meters (100 hectares) of land from the Oromia Regional State a year ago. The total cost of the project is estimated to be 10 billion dollars and it is projected to employ one million people.

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Akgün has started mobilization and conducting soil test and planned to start construction once the rainy season is over, according to Yunus Akgün, board member of Akgün Group. “Machineries and equipment are on their way to Ethiopia,” Yunus told The Reporter. However, the company was recently informed to suspend construction as the project may cause a threat to the stability of the Legedadi drinking water dam.

The Ethio-Turkish International Industrial Zone is located only five km from the Legedadi Dam and Water Treatment Plant. Reliable sources told The Reporter that officials of the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) are very concerned about the realization of the project which is found in the catchment area of the Legedadi dam which supplies clean drinking water to 50 percent of the three million Addis Ababa residents. “The construction site is located in the Legedadi reservoir.”

“The industry zone construction poses a serious threat to the dam,” sources at AAWSA said. “It has two different effects on the dam. One, there will be turbidity during the construction. The mud that would be created during the construction will be washed by the rain-water and accumulate in the dam. Second after the factories are built the industrial wastes from the factories will be washed by the rain to the dam and contaminate the drinking water.”

Officials of the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority informed the federal government of the potential threat posed at the Legedadi Dam. According to information obtained from the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority, the plot of land was granted to the company without the knowledge and consent of the authority. “Experts of the authority conducted a study on the impact of the industrial zone construction. They came up with a conclusion that the industrial zone has serious impacts on the dam,” an official at AAWSA, who requested anonymity, told The Reporter.

Accordingly, the officials of the authority informed the federal government of the potential threat of the industrial zone and recommended that the construction of the industrial zone be suspended. The authority wrote a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Addis Ababa. According to sources, the authority’s move was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy.

Sources said the Office of the Prime Minister decided that the construction of the industrial zone is temporarily suspended until a solution is sorted out. “We support the realization of the Ethio-Turkish Industrial zone. It is a flagship project that will play an important role in the economic development of our country. But this is also a threat posed at the well-being of 1.5 million people. If the company can come up with a solution it can commence the construction on the industrial zone. Until then, the construction is suspended,” the authority said.

According to Yunus, the government’s decision was conveyed to Akgün Group last July through the Ministry of Industry. Yunus said his company is undertaking an environment impact assessment study. “We are finalizing the study. We will submit it to the government after one month.”

According to Yunus, every investment project in the world has an impact on the environment. “The most important thing is to have a mitigation plan. So we are working on that and we will soon present it to the government.”

Yunus said that Akgün wants to see a sustainable development in Ethiopia adding that the Ethio-Turkish Industrial zone will benefit the country. “We are very serious about the mitigation plan. Every problem has a solution. There are means and ways. With today’s latest technology we can address any type of environmental concern,” Yunus said. “It is hundred percent possible.”

Sources told The Reporter that the government will evaluate the mitigation plan and decide on the fate of the project. “After evaluating the mitigation plan the government may allow the company to embark on the project or relocate the industrial zone to another location,” sources said.

Yunus said that the company will accept the government’s decision. “It is the Ethiopian government that invited us to invest in Ethiopia. The Ethio-Turkish International Industrial Zone is 10-12 billion dollars investment that will employ one million people.”

Asked if Akgün will agree to the idea of relocating to another location, Yunus said that his company will accept whatever decision the government will make. The cost the company incurred so far in developing the site is the question lingering in the minds of people close to the project.

Yunus said that will be something that the board of the company will discuss and decide. Yunus declined to disclose the amount of money the company invested so far on the construction site. “We are just at the beginning. We did not spend a huge amount of money. It is good that we are at the start. What if we have built the factories? That would have been worse.”

Yunus is confident that Akgün will address the environmental concerns and embark on the largest industrial zone development project in Africa. “I can assure you that we will realize this project. It could be on this site or on another. But we will do it. The project is backed by the Ethiopian and Turkish governments.”

Akgün Group has been promoting the Ethio-Turkish International Industrial Zone project in Turkey, Germany, the US, the UAE and Japan. The industry zone planned on 1,500 hectares of land includes a customs zone, lorry park, gas station, logistics zone and recycle center. According to Akgün, the recycle center will collect and separate industrial wastes and recycle aluminum, iron, plastics, copper and other similar materials. The industrial zone will have factories including textile and garment, shoes and processed leather products, processing of food and agriculture products, pharmaceuticals and chemical, machinery and metal production, plastics and rubber, construction and building materials, electricity and electronics, glass production, handicraft and storage and logistics. There are also education, health, laboratory and techno park.

The plan is to put the project into effect in 15 years. According to Akgün, 1500 enterprises will be located in the industry zone. Projected export in the first years is five billion dollars but the plan is to reach ten billion dollars.

It was in 2008 that Abadula Gemeda, the then president of the Oromia Regional State, who visited Istanbul, that invited Akgün Group to come and invest in Ethiopia. Abadula, with a ten-member delegation, visited the Istanbul Organized Industry Zone established and managed by Akgün Insaat. After listening to the briefing by Yusuf Akgün, chairman of Akgün Group, Abadula was impressed by the industrial zone and asked him to do the same in Ethiopia.

Senior government officials, including the late prime minister Meles Zenawi and former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin, were staunch supporters of the project.

Akgün first came to Ethiopia in 2005 and established Plaswin Plastic factory in Burayu town. According to Yunus, Plaswin is now the leading plastic manufacturer in the country.

Since 2003 more than 115 Turkish companies have invested in Ethiopia with a total capital of 1.2 billion dollars. President Mulatu Teshome (PhD), former Ethiopian Ambassador to Ankara, is credited for the influx of Turkish companies to Ethiopia. Efforts made by The Reporter to get comments from the Ministry of Industry was not successful.

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