Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Five reasons why Africa’s tallest dam could be a giant disaster


Africa Views - Five reasons why Africa�s tallest dam could be a giant

By Lindsay Duffield | Yesterday at 12:34 AM | Comments ( 0 )

(Lindsay Duffield is a campaigner at Survival International in London)

Ethiopian embassies around the world may mark World Water Day today by
leafing through an international petition about the country�s flagship
hydroelectric project, the Gibe III dam.

At 243 metres, Gibe III is to be Africa�s tallest dam, and it has
already earned a place as one of the most controversial.

The dam is being built on the Omo River, which courses through the
famous Omo Valley and feeds into Lake Turkana over the border in
Kenya. The river cuts a rich and fertile seam into an arid,
unforgiving landscape. For the people living along its banks the Omo
is a vital source of life.

The petition against the dam has gathered support around the world,
including from concerned Kenyan herders whose thumb prints adorn pages
upon pages amongst the signatures delivered today. Almost 400
organisations have also endorsed the petition.

If you need another clue about the disaster that is Gibe III, take
note that the European Investment Bank and the African Development
Bank - both institutions with a keen interest in supporting Africa�s
energy sector - have each decided not to fund the dam.

Nonetheless, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has told reporters
that Gibe III will be completed �whether you like it or not.�

So, just in case he�s reading, here are five key reasons why Africa�s
tallest dam would be a monumental disaster for some of the region�s
most vulnerable people.


Ethiopia�s constitution promises the Omo Valley tribes the right to be
consulted about any state project likely to affect them. Even today,
over four years after work on the dam began (well before environmental
clearance was granted), they have still not been properly consulted.

In 2009 the government effectively made it impossible for them to
organize or share information about the dam, by shutting down 41
community groups. They have been offered no choice, no alternative,
and no hope of a better future.


Gibe III will cut off theOmo�s annual flood. Usually, as the flood
waters slowly recede a layer of extremely fertile silt is deposited
along the river banks. It is this rich silt that allows the Omo tribes
to grow their crops there.

The dam builders have said they will create an �artificial flood� for
ten days every year. But such a rapid flood will not allow for the
vital silt tosettle. It will also mean that the Omotribes will be at
the mercy of the dam operators, whose commercial interests might trump
the tribes� needs for water.


Lake Turkana is a UNESCO world heritage site (so is the Omo Valley).
Hundreds of thousands of people have made their home around the lake,
fishing its waters and grazing their cattle along its banks. Many
believe the already shrinking lake will be severely compromised if
Gibe III is completed, as the Omo is the lake�s primary source.


Gibe III will generate huge amounts of electricity. Some will be
delivered to Addis Ababa and surrounds, but most is destined for Kenya
and elsewhere. So the dam benefits will be delivered to those already
in positions of power, while the costs � in food security, in
livelihoods � will be imposed on those least able to speak out.


In January Zenawi announced plans for a mega-irrigation project in the
Omo Valley. Details are hard to come by but it seems likely that Gibe
III is a vital part of that scheme. 180,000 hectares of land,
including some tribes� territories, have already been earmarked for
lease to agricultural investorsfor cash crops including biofuels -
depriving the tribes of vital agricultural and grazing land.

(For more information on this campaign see: http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/node/3773)

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