Fri, 09/17/2010 - 11:23pm
By: Terri Hathaway
Spiked and others are calling attention to the heavy floods in Ethiopia
which now threaten 270,000 people. Regional authorities and humanitarian
partners including World Vision, CARE, Food for the Hungry International
(FHI), Save the Children-UK, Concern, OCHA, WFP UNICEF and the Ethiopian
Red Cross Society are among those involved in flood relief efforts.
Supporting these humanitarian agencies supports the urgent needs of
Ethiopia's flood victims in this time of crisis.
Ethiopia's boom and bust rain cycles are notorious for their role in
Ethiopia's extreme poverty. But dams are not a flood control panacea.
Current flooding in Afar is attributed in part to the overflowing of the
Tendaho Dam, which was completed less than two years ago. The dam's
overflow has damaged 18 km of its irrigation canal and 4,000 hectares of
farms and grazing lands. Overflowing of the dam and the Logia River has
directly displaced more than 15,000 people.
In 2006, at the height of severe floods on the Omo River, the reservoir
of Gilgel Gibe hydropower dam (commissioned in 2004) was so full that
the government had to make emergency releases of water. While the
government refused to say how much water, the releases exacerbated the
severe floods at the very height of flooding. Using a hydropower dam for
flood control requires a trade off that dam operators rarely want to
make – releasing stored water to lower the reservoir level at the
beginning of the rainy season, which is seen as a loss of potential
hydropower revenues. If completed, the Gibe 3 hydropower dam could be
implicated in exacerbating future floods at the very time downstream
communities expect it to provide flood control.
Ethiopia's watersheds are heavily degraded and the water runs off
hillsides because the soil cannot absorb heavy rains. The heavy rains of
2006 caused more damaging flash flooding than was experienced in years
past with heavier rains.
A new report by the Addis Ababa-based International Water Management
Institute (IWMI) argues that water storage shouldn't over-rely on single
solutions like big dams. IWMI recommends an integrated approach that
combines large- and small-scale storage options, including the use of
water from natural wetlands, water stored in the soil, groundwater
beneath the earth's surface and water collected in ponds, tanks and
reservoirs. Improving the health of the watersheds would support greater
ground absorption and groundwater recharge.
On dams and Gibe 3
International Rivers does not oppose dams which follow the
recommendations of the World Commission on Dams (WCD). The WCD
recommendations ensure the use of high standards in planning and ensures
that development, not destruction, results. It can improve
decision-making so that the best options rise to the top. (Watch our new
video on the WCD).
International Rivers opposes the Gibe 3 Dam because it would
dramatically harm hundred of thousands of people living downstream. The
poor planning, fast tracking and top down management of the project has
neglected to account for the massive devastation which is expected to
To date, the government of Ethiopia has demonstrated neglect, not good
will, in providing a state-sponsored safety net (health clinics,
schools, roads, radio, veterinary services, etc) for the Lower Omo
communities. The government has closed down Lower Omo community
associations, disrupting their ability to self-organize and address
local issues. The Ethiopian government has withheld funds owed to some
communities for use of their lands. Corruption means food aid, when
needed, often doesn't make it to Lower Omo families in need.
The government safety net has so far failed people in the Lower Omo
Valley. So the people's traditional system of food cultivation and
pastoralism is currently their best way to support themselves. The dam
will severely affect this community safety net. The lack of community
consultations and the inability for communities to speak up about their
rights without fear of government retaliation does not demonstrate that
the government will sufficiently outline, and then implement, local
development projects to help these communities seamlessly transition
into a more secure standard of living.
When I traveled to Zimbabwe and Zambia in 2007, I visited communities
who were displaced in 1958 for the Kariba Dam. They were promised that
electricity and irrigation projects would follow them and that they
would be better off than before. Fifty years later, they are still
struggling for the development that was promised. Meanwhile, the
weakening of their own community safety net, their social fabric, has
left multi-generational impacts.
Ethiopia wants to build lots of dams. Following its own laws and
policies so that quality studies are completed prior to awarding
contracts, contracts are properly procured, and communities are
sufficiently consulted would avoid some of our criticisms of the Gibe 3
Dam. Genuinely following the WCD recommendations - the gold standard of
dam building - would get us to shut up.
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