Friday, January 28, 2011

Ethiopia: Mega irrigation project on disputed river planned

Ethiopia: Mega irrigation project on disputed river planned
Thursday 27 January 2011 / by Desalegn Sisay / 3 opinions

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has announced plans to start an
irrigation project on the trans-boundary Omo River. The announcement
comes in spite of an unresolved contention raised over the
government�s Gibe III Hydropower Project, which is currently underway
to generate 1800MW. Analysts argue that Ethiopia should negotiate with
countries like Kenya and Egypt before embarking on such projects.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who appeared at a ceremony in
Jinka, a town in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples
Regional State, on January 25 to celebrate the 13 Pastoralists Day
announced his government�s plan to embark on a mega irrigation plan
using the Omo river�s water.

The project will see the cultivation of sugar cane on 150,000 hectares
of land, three times larger than the size of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia�s
capital, in the Southern Omo Region on the trans-boundary of the Omo

According to the Prime Minister, the irrigation project is expected to
create 100,000 jobs; A situation that will promote not only a more
settled lifestyle for local pastoralists but also harness the area�s
water shortage and aid them to undertake more modern systems of animal


Gibe III Hydropower, another project on the the Omo River, has in
recent years been an object of criticism among international NGO�s and
pressure groups who have argued that the project will adversely impact
the livelihood of surrounding communities.

Critics insist that the dam will minimize the volume of water that
enters Lake Turkana, in Kenya, from the Omo River and negatively
impact residents of the area.

Pressure, exerted by the environmental activists, eventually resulted
in International financial institutions like the World Bank, the
African Development Bank and other donors declining to assist Ethiopia
financially vis-�-vis the construction of the mega dam project.

Despite the project�s delay, caused by the withdrawal of international
financial institutions, Ethiopia remained on its position and
eventually gained financial support of close to 500 million US dollars
from the Chinese government, covering 36 per cent of the project�s
total cost.


Analysts say that Ethiopia�s current relationship with emerging
economies such as China and India has served as a bulwark against both
pressure groups and influence from Western countries, thus allowing
the Horn of Africa country to undertake projects without fear of

Others have expressed fears over Ethiopia�s current position, arguing
that it could lead to possible conflicts with neighboring countries,
including Kenya and Egypt, unless negotiation is set as a prerequisite
regarding mutual economic benefits before commencement of any
disputable projects.

Prime Minister Meles who in 2009 asserted that Ethiopia will not
slowdown its efforts to industrialise for fear of worsening the state
of the environment, stating that Africa�s "contribution to global
warming is negligible" in comparison with "�ndustrialised countries",
said that the irrigation project which is to be carried out in the
next five years will make the area a showcase of fast track development.

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