Gibe III hydropower dam in Ethiopia: Group says power project will increase poverty

(HornTrade) – China has been urged to withdraw the funding of the now controversial construction of Gibe III hydropower dam in Ethiopia.

Through a petition by a group calling itself the Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) to the Chinese ambassador to Kenya, it is argued that once the project is implemented, the 240-metre high dam will compromise “a very fragile and unique ecosystem” which is identified as a protected area.

According to FoLT chairperson, Ikal Ang’elei, the filling of the reservoir will block the south-western part of the Omo River, threatening the livelihood of more than 200,000 people living in the lower Omo valley.

“If the natural flood with its rich silt deposits disappears, subsistence economies will collapse leading to food shortage,” said Ms Ang’elei.

Documents accessed by the Daily Nation show that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is underwriting a $500 million contract which was awarded in May 13 to Dongfang Electric Corporation for the dam’s turbines and electro-mechanical works.

Although ICBC has not publicly announced the loan, the bank’s official confirmed last month that the financial agreement between the Bank and the Ethiopian government was signed in July.

Friends of Lake Turkana believe that ICBC has committed to funding this “destructive” project without its due assessment and impact.

“The Chinese government should reconsider funding this project until we obtain a fair hearing and authoritative legal conclusions about shared waters under international law,” read part of the petition.

Ms Ang’elei alleges that so far no independent assessment of the environmental and social impact from the Gibe III Dam has been undertaken, despite the advancement in the putting up of the venture, the largest energy investment project ever implemented in Ethiopia with a $1.7-billion price tag.

An environmental impact assessment auditing of the project by a team of researchers from Europe-based CEE Bankwatch Network reveals that in 2006, the Ethiopian government set up an Environmental Monitoring Unit whose goal was to monitor the environmental impacts of construction and operation of project.

Fishermen on Lake Turkana. Groups say the Gibe 3 dam would lead to the ecological and economic collapse around Lake Turkana and would increase conflicts in this volatile region.
However, the unit is said to have had limited capacity and at the same time no power to enforce compliance with environmental safeguards.

While the monitoring team appreciated that the dam will have devastating effects on the lake, the researchers alleged they cannot “actively pursue the issues of hydropower dams due to legitimate concerns of government persecution.”

Rick Graetz, a researcher at the University of Montana said that the proposed dam on the Omo River will have major destructive impacts on the Lower Omo River Basin’s fragile semi-arid environment.

“The Gibe III project will have major trans-boundary impacts specifically in northeastern Kenya where both the Omo River and Lake Turkana are located, and in the Ilemi Triangle of southern Sudan,” said Dr Graetz.

If completed, the project will produce more than 1,800 MW of electricity, some of which will be exported to Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti.

Kenya alone is expected to import more than 500MW to help solve the recurring power outages.

According Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, more than 200 MW will be exported to both Djibouti and Sudan.

Moreover, a feasibility study is underway to consider exporting 50 MW to Yemen through Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea and Egypt.

Ethiopia expects to earn $407 million annually from these exports.


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