MEROWE, Sudan, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Squinting amid the dazzling sunshine on the brink of the Sahara Desert, Asem Khalil Idris tried to get a clear view of President Omar al-Bahir, who was addressing a crowd at the inauguration ceremony for Merowe Dam, the country's largest hydropower project.
"The power from the dam will create a lot of work opportunities," Asem, 39, a local resident coming from the Wadi Halfa town, said on Wednesday morning.
"Before today, We had to rely on diesel-fueled generators, which is noisy and very inconvenient," he said, adding that "we will have a more colorful life with less blackouts thanks to the president and the dam's builders, and the fruit trees and vegetable planted in my town will get the badly-needed irrigation."
As Bashir signed a takeover paper at noon, siren resounded over the huge dam and the vast artificial lake that has moistened the local air over the arid desert, marking the official start of power generation of the project.
The 9.7-km dam is the longest one in the world with a total capacity of 1.25 million kilowatt, twice as much as Sudan's existing power supply.
Wielding his stick, encircled by entourages, Bashir danced to the rhythm of a 30-minute folk song on a table on a improvised platform. The president's trademark style was applauded by a crowd, who raised a forest of arms and chanted religious slogans.
"It's an important day and we got it finally," said Rashid in the crowd, who clapped his hands jubilantly in the crowd as the voluble president made statements and danced. "But I have not decided where to go after the dam."
Rashid, in his forties, a veteran driver, who has worked for CCMD JV, a Chinese joint venture that built the dam, for some five years.
"I hope it's not my last drive to Merowe," Rashid said with a little blue earlier on our way to the remote dam, some 450-km north of the capital city Khartoum.
The SUV took a U-turn at an intersection, where scores of people were standing on the roadside of a small town with various banners in their hands.
"This town is a local tourist attraction," Rashid said, "they are advertising for their town and the banner reads 'great place, good price' in Arabic."
"CCMD (JV) rebuilt the desert road to Merowe for material transportation, and those people want to make more money because it saves a lot of time of the tourists coming from the capital," he said while flooring the accelerator pedal of the vehicle, which rustled through the strong north wind.
"It's a state-of-the-art project," said Wu Xiguo, chief engineer and deputy manager of the dam. "We won the contract at a much reasonable price and finished it on time."
"The biggest challenge is the climate of Merowe," said Wu, who has got a good tan at the dam in the past six years. "The average temperature is about 40 degrees and some of my friends got malaria in the mosquito-ridden area."
"Another problem is the lack of resources," he added, "We came here in July 2003 and found nothing except the river and the infertile Sahara, so we have to import nearly everything, including toothpaste."
He said that the dam's eight 350-ton super cranes, dubbed "Gate Machine" in their jargon, were all shipped from China.
"But it pays, it will stand on the river for at least 100 years and some 4 million Sudanese people, or more than one-tenth of the total population, will benefit from the dam's irrigation system and power supply," he said.