News / Africa

Omo River Dams in Ethiopia: Blessing or Curse?

During the dry part of the year, when the water table drops, the Nyangatom, Mursi and other tribes of the area dig deep holes in river beds to water their cattle and to get drinking water.
During the dry part of the year, when the water table drops, the Nyangatom, Mursi and other tribes of the area dig deep holes in river beds to water their cattle and to get drinking water.

Multimedia

Audio

The giant Gibe III dam, now being built on the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia is a boon for some, a problem for others.

Supporters say it will provide electricity for millions of Africans.  But others, like the British-based human rights group Survival International, say it will have a devastating effect on an estimated 200,000 people living in the area of the dam.

The Gibe III will curb the Omo’s season floodwaters, which provide water and silt to enrich local farmland.
The damage caused by the Gibe III dam could be far reaching, according to Lindsay Duffield campaigner at Survival International.

A massive hydroelectric dam threatens the tribes of the Lower Omo River, Ethiopia
A massive hydroelectric dam threatens the tribes of the Lower Omo River, Ethiopia

 

“The Omo River is the primary source of Kenya’s famous Lake Turkana, which supports the lives of 300,000 people who pasture their cattle on its banks and fish there.  The dam will threaten their survival too,” she says.

Survival International is spearheading a campaign to stop the building of the Ethiopian dam and is urging the African Development Bank and other institutions to stop funding the project.

The Ethiopian government, on the other hand, says criticism of the hydroelectric project is fabricated and “far from reality.”  The National Security Advisor to the Ethiopian prime minister, Abay Tsehaye, is quoted as saying the ongoing campaign against the Gibe III dam is an “empty attempt of some interest groups who do not want to see Ethiopia march towards development.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly stressed that no outside pressure would stop the Ethiopian government from completing the construction of the dam.  “Ethiopia will accomplish the construction at any cost whether donors continue funds or not,” he said.

Upon completion, the $1.7 billon, Gibe III power project will have capacity to generate up to 1,870 megawatts of electric power, potentially enabling Ethiopia to export power to neighboring countries.

The Kwengu tribe of the Lower Omo river will be threatened by the massive hydroelectric Gibe lll dam under construction, Ethiopia.
The Kwengu tribe of the Lower Omo river will be threatened by the massive hydroelectric Gibe lll dam under construction, Ethiopia.

“The Ethiopian government is entirely unconcerned about the tribes living in the lower Omo Valley.  It is not interested in consulting with them properly at all,” says Duffield.  She says in 2009 the local regional administration for the area surrounding the Gibe III shut down a number of community associations, making it virtually impossible for the tribes affected to discuss their views of the dam.

The Ethiopian government further says Gibe III, aside from generating enough electricity to power the country several times over, will increase the safety of the downstream peoples by preventing the giant floods that sweep away livestock and people.

The criticism is “unfounded and unreasonable, [and] aimed to meet self interest under the pretext of the agenda by putting political and diplomatic pressure on the country, thereby, to seek money from donors,”says the national security adviser to Prime Minister Abay Tsehaye.

Nyangatom girl with little sister carrying her calabash after watering the family herd. Kibish, Lower Omo, Ethiopia.
Nyangatom girl with little sister carrying her calabash after watering the family herd. Kibish, Lower Omo, Ethiopia.


The Ethiopian government says with the construction of the dam it plans to boost the current 2,000 megawatts hydropower generation capacity to 8,000. “It’s important to point out that electricity generated by the dam is not going directly to Ethiopia,” Duffield says.


“A great deal of it will actually be taken across the border to Kenya because the governments have already made agreements.  This is not an electrification project for the benefit of the people who are living in the area.  When all is said and done, the tribes of the Omo Valley who are going to be affected by this dam are going to get precious little benefit from it,” Duffield explains.

Supporters say the Gibe III and other large hydroelectric dams provide cheap and efficient “green” energy that can supply electricity to millions.  Duffield says the proponents have failed to explore other options first, like small scale hydropower dams, wind and solar power.


“A choice has been made to build what will be Africa’s tallest dam without considering the effects it is going to have on the people who live immediately downstream for it,” Duffield says.

Industry associations and lending institutions say they have retooled their evaluation procedures for large hydro dams and have started to apply new construction guidelines developed by a discussion forum, the World Commission on Dams.

Lindsay Duffield Campaigner Survival International
Lindsay Duffield Campaigner Survival International

In 2000, the commission issued a report saying decisions to build large hydro-electric dams must be guided by indigenous people’s free, prior and informed consent to the project.  “[It was] a great move on the part of the commission at that time, but at this moment not clearly being applied to the Gibe III project in Ethiopia,” says Duffield.

She credits the World Bank for taking more account of environmental and social issues in its planning and for establishing a complaints procedure for affected tribal communities.  But what the World Bank hasn’t done, she says, is to adequately implement the standard of free, prior and informed consent, which she says is absolutely vital to tribal people all over the world.  “If they don’t have this very basic standard, which the World Bank should endorse, the results could be very devastating,” Duffield warns.

Upon completion, the Gibe III dam will be the second largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, also providing electricity to needing neighbor countries.  The dam wall will be 240 meters high, the tallest dam in Africa, and create a 150-kilometer-long reservoir.  Salini Costruttori, an Italian company, started construction work on the project in 2006.  Gibe III is due to be completed in 2012.         

You May Like

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid