Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Government Audit Finds Hydropower Aid Doesn't Benefit the Poor

Government Audit Finds Hydropower Aid Doesn't Benefit the Poor
By Peter Bosshard
Huffington Post, July 8, 2014

No other industrialized country relies on hydropower for its own power
generation as much as Norway. Norwegian companies build hydropower dams
around the world, including controversial projects like the Theun
Hinboun Dam in Laos. Norwegian development aid actively supports the
interests of the hydropower sector. Norway is also promoting hydropower
in international organizations and diplomatic initiatives.

Since the turn of the century, Norway has spent more than NOK 12 billion
(approximately $1.5 billion) on development assistance for the energy
sector. This aid consists of the following elements:

. Almost half of the assistance supported investments in mid-sized
hydropower projects in Chile, the Philippines and other countries
through SN Power, a state-owned investment company. The projects in
which SN Power has invested include Allain Duhangan in Northern India, a
dam that was bitterly opposed by the local population.

. Norwegian aid supports the planning and construction of transmission
lines, including a project that would export power from the
controversial dams in the rainforest of Sarawak to Indonesia.

. Norway is strengthening the capacity of Southern governments to build
hydropower projects, and funds feasibility studies for specific
projects. Norway has for example entered a hydropower partnership with
Ethiopia, and has funded studies for two large dams on the Blue Nile.
Only last month, the Norwegian government canceled this cooperation due
to the Ethiopian government's insistence on uneconomic mega-dams.

. A small portion of Norway's clean energy aid supports the development
of decentralized renewable wind and solar projects.

While the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has failed to evaluate
its energy assistance, the government's Auditor General Office carried
out an in-depth assessment of the assistance and submitted the findings
to parliament on June 25.

The findings of the audit are highly critical. The Auditor General
states: "Norwegian assistance to clean energy has not led to a
noticeable increase in power generation and has contributed little to
improving living conditions for the poor in those countries that have
been prioritized for such support."

More specifically, the audit finds that Norwegian energy assistance is
"still primarily directed towards hydropower, although countries have
ample opportunities to utilize solar and wind energy resources." This
bias makes recipient countries "more vulnerable to failure in energy
supply" than a more balanced approach would have done. The support for
transmission lines has created energy access for over 100,000
households, although "primarily the wealthiest households" have
benefited from this. The various measures have not spurred private
investment in the recipient countries, and their economic viability is weak.

"A stunning 12.26 billion Norwegian kroners has had little effect on
electricity production, poverty alleviation and business creation in the
prioritized target countries," FIVAS, a Norwegian environmental
organization and long-time partner of International Rivers, commented on
the audit findings. "This confirms our view that too much Norwegian
support has been tied up in hydropower."

In his response to the audit, Norway's Foreign Minister agreed that the
rapid advancement of solar, wind and biomass power "will make it
possible to expand the breadth of investment in clean energy," and
accepted the recommendation "to strengthen efforts to improve energy
access in rural areas with small-scale renewable solutions." At the same
time, the Foreign Minister argued that among all technologies, Norway
was still best placed to extend aid for hydropower.

The strong and unambiguous findings of the independent audit offer the
government an opportunity to change course. A failure to do so in the
interest of the country's hydropower industry would dent the high
credibility of Norway's development assistance.

Norway is a leading voice in the global dams debate and is often
considered a model in development and energy finance. The new audit adds
to the growing evidence that large hydropower projects are not effective
at reducing poverty, and that better tools for achieving this goal
exist. The World Bank, the Green Climate Fund (which receives strong
support from Norway and will soon decide on its own energy priorities)
and other institutions should take note.

[An English translation of the audit report's main sections is available

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise
Dam operators warn that army's plan to open floodgates to thwart ISIS
would create massive destruction to villages

Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Common Dreams, 6/26/2014

The possibility of potentially catastrophic flooding has emerged
following reporting that either Iraqi military forces or Sunni militants
would open the floodgates of a dam on the Euphrates River.

Citing statements by Iraqi security officials made Wednesday, the New
York Times reported that ISIS forces "were advancing on the Haditha
Dam," located roughly 120 miles from Baghdad.

The dam is the country's second largest and generates hydroelectric power.

The Times does not cite a specific threat made by ISIS forces that they
would open the floodgates, but notes that ISIS fighters in April seized
the Falluja Dam and unleashed flooding.

The Times reporting adds that Iraqi government forces were responding to
the possibility by being prepared to open the dam's floodgates
themselves. From the Times:

"This will lead to the flooding of the town and villages and will
harm you also," the [dam] employee said he told the [army] officers.

Regardless of which side might open the floodgates, it is the civilian
population who would suffer in such an event, Peter Bosshard, Policy
Director of International Rivers, an organization that works to protect
rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them, explained to
Common Dreams.

"Dams have been used as weapons of mass destruction through the ages,"
Bosshard continued. "In the first recorded water war, the army of Umma,
a Sumerian city state, drained irrigation canals against their enemies
of Lagash in present-day Iraq, not far from Haditha Dam, 4,500 years
ago. In the most infamous case, the nationalist army of Chian Kai Shek
destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River in 1937 to slow the advancing
Japanese army, thereby flooding hundreds of thousands of square
kilometers of land and killing at least 800,000 of its own people," he

Khalid Salman, head of the Haditha local council, told the Washington
Post that ISIS would want take over the dam not to unleash flooding but
to control the power plant powered by it, thus being able to provide a
service to the local population.

"Of course they want to control the dam, which is very important, not
only for Anbar, but for all of Iraq," the Post quotes Salman as saying.

Meanwhile, violence continues to erupt in the country. Reuters reports
that on Thursday battles were "raging" in the city of Tikrit, where
Iraqi forces are launching a counter-attack on Sunni militant forces.

And on Wednesday, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rebuked gains made by
ISIS, and said his supporters "will shake the ground under the feet of
ignorance and extremism," Agence France-Presse reports.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki has told the BBC that he welcomed
strikes against ISIS carried out by Syria, which hit within the Syrian
side of the Iraq/Syira border. He said they were carried out without
coordination, but added, "We actually welcome any Syrian strike against

Amidst the official comments by leaders and new gains in territory by
ISIS, a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold, as over one million
Iraqis - including half a million children - have been forced to flee
their homes.

"Yet again, another humanitarian crisis hits war-torn Iraq,
disproportionately and negatively impacting the hungry poor," reads a
statement issued Wednesday by United Nations World Food Programme
Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

"The UN and the entire humanitarian community are surging staff,
releasing funds and drawing on all available stocks to assist people
affected by the fighting and meet the urgent growing needs," Cousin added.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hydropower poses grid challenge for Brazil

Hydropower poses grid challenge for Brazil
7 June 2014

Brazil may be too reliant on hydropower as it builds world�s 3rd biggest dam, according to US Department of Energy

By Gerard Wynn

While rainfall has recently doused World Cup football pitches in southern and eastern Brazil, persistent drought elsewhere poses a challenge for the country�s hydropower, the US Department of Energy said on Tuesday.

�Brazil is currently experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, which has contributed to electricity blackouts in many Brazilian regions,� the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

�The south has been inundated with rainfall that has affected some World Cup matches, including those held in Natal, the site of team USA�s victory over Ghana last night,� it added.

�(But) the drought has persisted in northern Brazil. Much of Brazil�s hydroelectric potential lies in the country�s Amazon River basin. This reliance on one resource for most of the country�s electricity generation, combined with the distant and disparate locations of its population centers, has presented electricity reliability challenges.�

Hydropower is responsible for more than three quarters of Brazil�s electricity generation, making the present drought a topic of energy security.

Brazil�s hydropower consumption fell 7% last year, according to data published by the energy company BP on Monday.

Analysts expect that the country can cope with extra electricity demand during the World Cup, in the worst case limiting supply in regions not participating in the tournament, and stepping up gas-fired power.

Hydropower consumption last year fell by 6.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE), while natural gas consumption almost made up the difference, growing by 5.4 MTOE, according to the BP data.

�Brazil has spent more than $5 billion to subsidize electric utilities replacing lost hydroelectric generation with fossil fuel-fired generation, including large amounts of liquefied natural gas, and has taken steps to provide backup generation for stadiums,� the EIA said.

Notwithstanding the energy security risks, Brazil is in the process of building the world�s third biggest dam, on a tributary of the Amazon.

The country already has the world�s second biggest dam, by generating capacity, shared with Paraguay on the Parana River in the south west of the country. At around 14,000 megawatts (MW), it is second only to the China Three Gorges� 22,500 MW.

And it is expected to commission an equally enormous dam within two years.

�The 14,000-megawatt Belo Monte dam along the Xingu River, expected to be completed in 2016, will become the second-largest dam in Brazil�and the third-largest dam in the world�at a projected cost of $13 billion,� the EIA said.

- See more at: http://www.rtcc.org/2014/06/17/hydropower-poses-grid-challenge-for-brazil/#sthash.jVpHejH1.dpuf

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Should hydropower truly be described as renewable? (SciDevNet)


Speed read
� Hydroelectric dams provide carbon-free energy as well as a show of power

� But they cause environmental harm and displace communities

� Energy production should be labelled �renewable� if it serves local needs

A revival in huge hydro projects may cut carbon emissions, but proponents' use of the term 'renewable' is misplaced.

Hydroelectric dams are the quintessential expression of human control of nature. As well as power, they create reservoirs of clean water, which to some are both pleasing to the eye and a place for tranquil recreation. They promise control of flooding, provide a steady supply of water for irrigation and, with time, a source of fresh fish.

They are an economist's as well as an engineer's dream, and, coupled with dynamic images of the cranes, bulldozers and swarms of men in hard hats associated with their construction, they are an instant marketing opportunity for politicians eager to demonstrate their commitment to progress.

Some argue that hydroelectric power has green credentials because it makes use of water - a free abundant and inherently benign medium.

It takes advantage of gravity, transforming energy from flowing water into electricity in a process that is at once clean and carbon free. With growing global concerns over carbon emissions, it is no surprise that hydroelectric projects should have a certain allure for governments wrestling with their countries' energy needs.

Yet this squeaky clean image has become tarnished over time, with criticism over the impact of these structures on the environment and the lives of people displaced by their construction.

As large dams have come under ever-increasing scrutiny, so their popularity with governments has steadily declined over the past two decades.

But this trend has recently been reversed. Massive hydroelectric projects are once again coming into vogue, with a boom in construction across the planet, from Brazil to China. Watching one of our audio slideshows on the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil cannot but elicit concern.

The stark, if hauntingly beautiful, images of the Xingu rainforest, which is being destroyed in the wake of the controversial project, rekindle an uneasy awareness: that large-scale hydroelectric projects do not easily fit into the clean energy paradigm. So, should they enjoy the positive connotations of the word 'renewable'?

How 'clean' is hydro?

Part of this unease is rooted in a sense that the displacement of thousands of people and the logging of huge areas, the gouging out and crushing of rocks - in short, the systematic alteration of an ancient landscape with unpredictable final consequences - is not exactly 'clean', either environmentally or, indeed, morally.

The other part of the unease reflects the uses to which the energy from large-scale hydro projects will be put.

For some developing economies, there is an argument for exploring the careful and judicious use of hydropower to meet a particular region's energy needs, especially when these complement its water needs.

Listen to Mallika Aryal's interview with Jeremy Bird, director-general of the International Water Management Institute, for a succinct account of why water management and energy production are so inextricably linked.

Where energy production is borne out of necessity and serves local needs, I find the idea that hydropower can be described as 'renewable' reasonably acceptable, notwithstanding the controversies that always seem to surround such projects. There is more here than a simple question of semantics, or the technical meaning of words.

The words we use also reflect a moral orientation. In my view, the crucial and central ingredient of the concept of 'renewable' should be a clear and overt recognition of this moral orientation, without any lingering taste of guilt.

When hydropower energy generation moves from being a necessity that answers pressing energy needs to being a commodity to trade, and where it has a massive impact on the local ecosystem, questions need to be raised about whether it should enjoy the positive, feel-good connotations of the term 'renewable'.

Relying on green credentials

I have an uneasy feeling that there is a growing reliance in some quarters on the green credentials of hydroelectric power to support its development - where it is not being produced for local needs and where it has a massive impact on local ecosystems and human lives.

Malaysia, for example - which last month hosted the ASEAN Renewable Energy Week - seems to have started to tap into the soothing qualities of the word 'renewable', most recently to assuage critics of a proposed dam on the Baram River in Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

The Baram hydroelectric dam project is planned as part of the so-called Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, which will involve building a cascade of dams along the river. But the electricity it is set to produce will not be for local use, but for export, including to neighbouring Brunei Darussalam.

Critics of the dam also draw attention to the loss of biodiversity, forest and cultivated land that construction will cause.

They suggest that 'mini-hydros' on smaller tributaries are a more acceptable alternative as they interfere less with the river ecosystem and generate power for local use rather than as a commodity for export.

Large dams on mighty rivers such as the Xingu and the Baram profoundly alter ecosystems in ways which are unpredictable and potentially disastrous, as well as altering the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people.

So what would a sustainable approach be to making use of such an ecosystem? The Baram and the Xingu already bathe and feed the areas surrounding them through natural river flow and will continue to do so as long as they are not choked midstream.

Perhaps such rivers should simply be left in peace - and, in such contexts, perhaps we need to be more cautious in our use of the word 'renewable'.

Editor, SciDev.Net

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interview w/ WBank: "Responsible hydro is part of solution"/Water Power mag

Responsible hydropower is part of the solution
1 May 2014

Hydropower is now firmly back on the investment agenda for the World Bank and has a key role to play in tackling development challenges worldwide. Suzanne Pritchard spoke with the Bank's Chief Hydropower Specialist, Jean-Michel Devernay, to find out more.

Worldwide, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity, 590 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries, access is below 10%. But is responsible development of hydropower part of the solution?
"Sustainable hydropower is a critical part of a pathway to prosperity in Africa, as the largest source of renewable energy deployable at scale," says Jean-Michel Devernay, Chief Hydropower Specialist at the World Bank.
Devernay joined the World Bank Group in July 2012, and is currently the highest technical authority in the Bank regarding global issues related to hydropower development.
"Hydropower development comes with a complex set of economic, environmental, and social opportunities and risks," Devernay told IWP&DC.
"Assessing them with care is of the utmost importance to us and we believe that we can help developing countries manage the risks while generating long-term development benefits to meet development aspirations of millions of poor people in the developing world."
IWP&DC: What is the World Bank's current position on financing hydropower projects?

Jean-Michel Devernay: The World Bank Group (WBG) is firmly committed to the responsible development of hydropower.
This was approved unanimously by our Board as part of the World Bank Group's Energy Directions paper in July 2013. To provide concessional financing to our client countries for development of sustainable hydropower is one example of this commitment.
So would you say that hydropower is now firmly back on the investment programme for the World Bank?

J-M D: Yes. The President of the WBG, Jim Yong Kim, announced last year two corporate goals: to end poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity for the poorest 40% in a sustainable manner. We do not believe those goals can be achieved sustainably without hydropower. Uganda seven years ago was experiencing regular blackouts and had to use diesel-fired thermal power to backstop the energy gap. Today, with the Bujagali hydropower project up and running since 2012, this has drastically reduced blackouts and the need for costlier diesel-fired power. That creates a much better opportunity for homes, schools, clinics and businesses to thrive.
"Since the 2003 Water Resources Strategy...the World Bank has approved about 100 projects related to hydropower"
Since the 2003 Water Resources Strategy, which states that the Bank would re-engage in hydraulic infrastructure, the World Bank (includes IBRD/IDA, GEF and Recipient Executed Activities) has approved about 100 projects related to hydropower (during fiscal years 2003-13), for a total of US$5.7B in financing. It has 30 projects in its pipeline, roughly half of which are in Africa.
The IFC has approved 42 hydro projects totalling US$1.3B over the last decade.
Are you interested in financing in any region of the world, any type of project, even large dams? Is this as long as it is represents 'responsible development'?

J-M D:Our support is not linked to any specific region or any specific type or size of project. When asked by developing countries, the WBG provides support to hydro projects only when they have a demonstrated economic viability, and if they comply with the institution's internationally-recognised social and environmental safeguards and performance standards. Each project should be assessed on its own merits and developed if it can help alleviate poverty and boost shared prosperity.
There are viable run-of-river (RoR), storage and smaller projects possible. Our portfolio for recent years shows that we support hydropower projects of all scales, with projects above 100MW representing less than one-third of the total. A more detailed analysis shows more hydropower rehabilitation projects than greenfield projects, and a balanced mix of storage, RoR, and pumped-storage projects.
In fact, 45% of our hydropower interventions over the last 10 years were for off-grid mini and small hydropower. During this period, the WBG also facilitated 27 carbon market transactions around hydropower to offset emissions from other technologies. Of these, approximately 60% were for RoR projects.
How much money the Bank has pledged for funding hydropower projects in the world's poorest countries?

J-M D:The WBG has not pledged any specific amount of our support to hydropower. The level of funding we will commit to hydropower will depend on the needs of developing countries, and the types of projects for which they request our assistance, and is therefore likely to vary from year to year.
"The World Bank has been funding about US$1B on average over the past four or five years"
The WBG has been funding about US$1B on average over the past four or five years, and for the coming years we project that this level will remain. This is only a couple of percent of the amount mobilised worldwide for hydropower development each year, but if you look at the poorest countries it becomes more significant.
Does the Bank believe that hydropower can play a key role in tackling climate change and is this directing its financial decisions?

J-M D:The WBG's goals are to eradicate poverty by 2030 and promote shared prosperity for the poorest 40% in a sustainable fashion. We believe that tackling climate change is a critical part of reaching these goals. Hydropower is affordable, very clean and has limited greenhouse gas emissions, especially compared with those from burning fossil fuels and many developing countries still have a large untapped hydropower potential.
Along with constrained access to electricity, by 2025, 2.4 billion people will be living in countries without enough water to meet all their needs. Water security is threatened by mismanagement of available water resources and increasing changes in weather patterns due to climate change.
Multipurpose hydropower dams can also support adaptation to increasingly extreme weather conditions by strengthening a country's ability to regulate and store water and so resist flood and drought shocks.
The WBG and its clients therefore recognise that responsible hydropower is part of the solution for tackling the development challenges outlined in our mission.
How is the bank committed to scaling up efforts to utilise the maximum strategic value of hydropower resources?

J-M D:Fifteen of the top 20 countries identified as having the biggest electricity access gap by the United Nation's Sustainable Energy for All initiative are countries with significant water resources that could be partially tapped for sustainable hydropower. These countries include some 750 million people who do not have access to electricity. At the same time hydropower with storage complements variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and provides essential functions for power system control.
"Hydropower with storage can also give multi-purpose benefits for flood management, irrigation and water supply"
Hydropower with storage can also give multi-purpose benefits for flood management, irrigation and water supply. In our Country Partnership Frameworks that we develop together with our client countries, hydropower will likely thus get a more and more prominent role in the energy and water sectors.
Are there any key projects you've recently committed finance?

J-M D: Examples of hydropower projects that we have committed financing to in recent times, and which show the natural distribution of size and type of projects that we support, include the:
Trung Son Hydropower project (260MW) in Vietnam.
Tarbela IV hydropower extension project (1410MW) in Pakistan.
Upper Cisokan pumped storage hydroelectric project (1040MW) in Indonesia.
Rusumo Falls transboundary project (80MW) in Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
Kali Gandaki rehabilitation (48MW) and Ruma Khola micro hydro power (51 kW) projects in Nepal.
Based on an interview published in the April 2014 issue of International Water Power & Dam Construction magazine.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Families, Monks Want Chinese Dam Canceled

Families, Monks Want Chinese Dam Canceled
By Khoun Narim
Cambodian Daily, 29 April 2014

Members of an ethnic minority community facing eviction from their ancestral homeland to make way for a Chinese hydropower dam in Koh Kong province—and the monks and NGO helping them—Monday once again urged the firm and the government not to go ahead with the project.

Hundreds of Chong families are facing eviction at the hands of Sinohydro (Cambodia) United, a Chinese firm that recently took over plans to build a 108-MW dam in the Areng Valley, in the heart of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Construction, which has yet to start, is expected to flood some 20,000 hectares, including the community’s sacred forests and a critical habitat for the en­dangered Siamese Crocodile.

“If the dam is built it will hurt our traditional ways and our livelihood, which depends on the forest,” said Has Ley, speaking at a press conference organized by the NGO Mother Nature in Phnom Penh.

Members of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, which has also taken up the cause, said they will soon organize pro­tests in front of the Chinese Embassy and Sinohydro’s Phnom Penh office.

The families, monks and NGOs believe Sinohydro may be using the project merly as cover to plunder the area’s trees and minerals. Some claim the project is not viable, and two Chinese firms have already pulled out.

“It’s not a real dam,” said Mother Nature cofounder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson. “It’s a project that doesn’t make any sense but it’s still going to go ahead because of corruption and other things.”

Sinohydro officials in charge of the project could not be reached for comment. Offi­cials at the provincial department of mines and energy could also not be reached.

In March, department director Pich Siyun said all the necessary studies for the project had been finished and that the affected families had agreed to resettle.

The families say they have not agreed to the move and for the past several weeks have kept watch over the only road leading in and out of the project area, preparing to block it if the firm attempts to begin construction.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)


Friday, April 25, 2014

Analysis on projects that could dry Lake Turkana

(Sorry for x-postings)


Fire on the water
The two neighbours are complicit in hydro-electric projects that could dry up Lake Turkana and destroy the lives of those who live near it.

by Ben Rawlence

May 01, 2014

Ben Rawlence is researching and writing a book about Somali refugees in Kenya with the support of the Open Society foundation. He is the author of "Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa's Deadliest War". Mr Rawlence received his master's in international relations from the University of Chicago. He lives in London.

Here today...
In the middle of the arid red desert of Kenya�s far north-west is a miraculous band of green water: Lake Turkana, the world�s largest desert lake. During calm weather, algae float on the surface and turn the lake green. This has given rise to the lake�s other name: the Jade Sea. It is also known as Anam Ka�alakol, meaning the �sea of many fish�, in the local Turkana language. Nearly 300,000 people living near the lake depend on it for fishing, farming, watering livestock and drinking water, according to US-based campaign groups International Rivers and the Oakland Institute.

This may end soon, however, if the predictions of a December 2013 report from Oxford University�s African Studies Centre hold true. The Lake Turkana area, also known as the cradle of mankind for its abundance of hominid fossils, has held water for at least 5m years. Evaporation rings at the water�s edge function like ice cores at the poles, providing an archive of climate information. It is why the lake is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as an environmental wonder.

This year, however, may mark the beginning of Lake Turkana�s slow demise.

The lake�s northern tip touches Kenya�s border with Ethiopia. Its main source is the Omo river, which rises out of the green hills in southern Ethiopia, about 600km upstream of the lake, spilling out into a rich fertile delta before it meanders into Lake Turkana. But Ethiopia, in desperate need of foreign exchange and electricity, has plans to choke this vital artery. Many warn that Lake Turkana may suffer the same fate as the Aral Sea in central Asia, which was once one of the world�s largest lakes, but is now nearly bone dry because its waters were diverted for irrigation.

The Ethiopian government has built Africa�s tallest dam, the 243-metre high Gibe III, on the Omo river. It is the third in a cascading series of hydroelectric projects. Other dams, Gibe IV and V, will follow soon. When the rains begin falling in May they will also start filling the Gibe III dam. In addition, downstream of the barrage, an Ethiopian parastatal is digging canals in the Omo Valley to irrigate up to 375,000 hectares of sugar plantations. In the process, Human Rights Watch says, the Ethiopian military has been evicting indigenous agro-pastoral communities such as the Mursi, Bodi and Suri.

The Gibe hydroelectric and irrigation scheme has been mired in controversy from the start. The Ethiopian government never made an official announcement of this irrigation scheme before construction began. It never carried out proper environmental and social impact assessments. It never consulted the people living near the river, according to the US-based pressure groups Human Rights Watch, the Oakland Institute, International Rivers and the Oxford study.

In the absence of any official estimates, the Oxford University study is an attempt to predict Gibe III�s effects on Lake Turkana. The report�s author, hydrologist Sean Avery, forecasts that the water diverted to feed commercial agriculture could result in a 16- to 20-metre permanent drop in Lake Turkana�s levels. The lake could reduce to two puddles, he says. And with increased salinity and evaporation, it will no longer be able to support its fish stocks. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who rely on fishing as a way of life will need to find alternative livelihoods.

The Kenyan government and other Western donors have not protested or opposed the potential destruction of this unique ecosystem and irreplaceable natural jewel. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant, Africa�s biggest, will generate 1,860 megawatts (MW) of power. This electricity will surge into the Eastern Africa Power Pool, a regional market set up in 2005, for onward transmission to Kenya and the region.

Other major projects are planned near the lake that link Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. Kenya is building sub-Saharan Africa�s biggest wind farm, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, 9km from the lake, expected to produce 300MW. Oil has also been discovered in the Turkana region, 100km south-west of the lake. A massive underground aquifer estimated to hold 250 billion cubic metres of water�equal to Lake Turkana�was discovered last year. The government claims this artesian basin could fulfil Kenya�s needs for 70 years. In addition, a $21 billion road, rail and pipeline network linking a new deep-water port at Lamu on the Indian Ocean to landlocked southern Ethiopia and South Sudan is planned to include a new resort city on the shores of Lake Turkana�if there is any water left.

Kenya is not alone in its silence on Ethiopia�s hydroelectric and irrigation scheme. International financial institutions are also complicit. The World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) withdrew from supporting the controversial dam project in 2009, but did not baulk at paying for the transmission line that will move the electricity across the border to Kenya. The World Bank approved the power line in late 2012, ignoring its own environmental safeguards that would have triggered a more thorough impact assessment, claiming instead that the line was simply connecting the national grids of the two countries.

Ties linking the three countries near the lake are proceeding at breakneck pace. But the building of the Gibe III dam and the irrigation scheme pose huge accountability questions. What happens when projects are conceived in secrecy, planned in violation of national and international standards, and executed at the barrel of a gun? Who takes the blame for international institutions that turn a blind eye to environmental risks and the lack of consultation?

By their nature, cross-border projects are harder to hold to account than purely national ones. Lobbying two or more governments as well as international financial institutions and their major shareholders (the United States, China, Europe and Japan) is tough and expensive. Vested interests are deep and strong and the argument is rarely clear. Critics claim, rightfully, that Ethiopia and Kenya should not be denied the right to exploit their natural resources; nor should they uphold ancient ways of life for their own sake. However, in solid democracies major infrastructure projects proceed in an open manner under proper scrutiny and without trampling the rights of the people whom they are intended to serve.

The lone Kenyan voice raised against the plans has been a small group called �The Friends of Lake Turkana�, led by charismatic activist Ikal Angelei. The Kenyan parliament, aside from asking a few questions, has been absent from the arena.

Silence reigns in Ethiopia, where the political environment is much harsher than in Kenya. The Omo Valley�s indigenous people, who are being evicted from their land to make way for the irrigated plantations, are unsophisticated in modern lobbying and almost completely disenfranchised in Ethiopia�s one-party state. Western NGOs, for the most part, have led the campaign to expose the lack of consultation, consent and social and environmental impact assessments as well as the human rights violations associated with the forced evictions and resettlement of the indigenous people.

The work of Human Rights Watch, UK-based Survival International and the Oakland Institute in publicising the expulsions prompted the African Commission on Human and Peoples� Rights last November to write to the Ethiopian government to stop the resettlement of the Omo Valley people while it investigates the allegations. The UK and US governments have suppressed information about human rights abuses connected with the irrigation schemes, according to a July 2013 report by the Oakland Institute. Another 2012 report by Human Rights Watch showed that the UK�s Department for International Development (DFID) knowingly subsidised the resettlement of the indigenous peoples. DFID denied the claims but admitted its funds might have contributed �indirectly� to the activities of local governments, including resettlement.

The NGOs have made some positive impact. In January 2014 the US Congress ordered that American dollars �not be used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions�, according to an appropriations bill. But, while important, these legal moves are likely to prove too little, too late. In Lake Turkana, regional power plays have worked against accountability. The complexity of such a large project and the many actors involved militates against holding anyone to account.

Ethiopia may have the right to develop the dam and the agriculture but not without reference to its own laws, which make very clear the rights of indigenous peoples to their own land, to consultation and to compensation in the event of eviction. Kenya, too, has the right to develop its resources but it also has a responsibility to protect its own citizens. Funders such as the World Bank, DFID, the US Agency for International Development, the ADB, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China have a responsibility to follow their own procedures and abide by their own codes.

Bigger and more ambitious infrastructure projects can only proceed lawfully and benefit citizens if all the players involved are held to account, a painstaking process. Lake Turkana shows that without sustained democratic movements to keep governments in check, regional integration can easily be turned from a force for good to a torrent of tyranny.

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