Uneasy Choice: Where do we stand on Gibe III Dam? – By Tsegaye Mulushoa

June 10th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

I. INTRODUCTION

Once again the lobbying power of the likes of Egypt (the so called “Environmentalists”) has been proved to be of far superior. (more…)

I. INTRODUCTION

Once again the lobbying power of the likes of Egypt (the so called “Environmentalists”) has been proved to be of far superior. The second biggest aid receiver of the United States, next to Israel, for making peace with Israel and maintaining this status qua along with its effort to soften the fiery stand of few Arab countries’ logged against the very existence of Israel as a nation, Egypt can pull any strings at any time and still win over the flow of Nile and the Water Policy of Ethiopia, thanks to the poverty stricken, donor-dependent and financially starved Ethiopia. As it stands now, a handful Environmentalists can do the same.

The Environmentalists lobbied European Investment Bank (EIB) to withdraw funding from Ethiopia’s dam, and sure enough, they got what they wanted. Financing from the EIB for Gibe III has been stopped. Why? The Bank said it has decided to pull back its Euro 1.55 billion hydropower dam funding …following the calls from the Environmentalists that “the Gibe III Dam threatens the food security and local economies that support more than half a million people in Southwest Ethiopia,” almost verbatim to what the so called environmentalists argued, spearheaded by the likes of the controversial Terri Hathaway and Peter Bosshard.

Reportedly, EIB financed the Gibe and Gibe II dams, conducted a pre-assessment of the Gibe III Dam, and contributed funds to the project’s economic, financial and technical assessment. Gilgel Gibe III dam is expected to be Africa’s tallest dam with the height of 240 meters and Ethiopia’s biggest investment.

Snaring Choice

Ethiopians all over the world can’t take our eyes off issue number one: The demise of tribal EPRDF leadership who grossly affected the unity and sovereignty of the nation and violates the civil, human and democratic rights of our people. However, the Gibe III issue may force all of us to make hard choices and help the current regime’s effort win over EIB so that the bank will reverse its decision. By far, it is an asset which will benefit the generations to come. Alas, for most of us, it is a situation or predicament from which it is impossible to extricate our self from the vicious cycle of Zenawi’s cruel administration and the danger to the national interest of Ethiopia. It will not be an easy choice; rather, it is a choice which we would have to make in pain for the sake of our country and aspiration of the future generations.

II. BACKGROUND

Fengjie is a small city with an ancient cultural center along the Yangtze River in central China, which is about to disappear as the world’s largest dam takes shape. By the end of 2009, about one million residents of this ancient city would be relocated to another location. Then, the land which has had the ancient city would be the world biggest dam.

At the eve of the disappearance of this ancient city, the most vocal issue has been if such large-scale disruptions be outweighed by the presumed benefits of the multi-billion dollar dam. Experts argued for and against it. The success will be that damming the World’s third-longest river (Yangtze River) will create a reservoir 365 miles (600 km) long. Aswan Dam of Egypt, Merowe of Sudan and other dams have had similar problems and gains.

It is inherent with any dams to cause forced or voluntary evacuations, pollutions, loss of spectacular scenery that has inspired poets and painters for centuries…shrines, mosques, synagogues, churches, cultural sites and archeological excavations. Dams affect farmlands and the river’s marine life, a vital source of food in several communities. They consume (flood) large areas, and cost billion of dollars, making a big dent on a given national economy. In spite of these inherent problems, countries seem willing to pay the price, and take the risks to build dams because the end result is acquiring thousands of megawatts of cleaner hydroelectric power which would offset the burning of polluting coal (and other materials) and boosting their national economies.

Gibe III dam is no way different from dams built all over the world. It has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. After weighing the potential benefits and burdens, Kenya and Ethiopia have reportedly signed the power purchase agreement outlining the terms of electricity sales in 2006. Nonetheless, Environmentalists are less impressed with this agreement as the large share of its electricity will be sold to consumers in other parts of Kenya and not in the Turkana region of Kenya. These environmentalists vehemently opposed the construction of Gibe III.

Unlike the Ethiopian Gilgel Gibe III, these so called Environmentalists did not intervene with equivalent lobbying force to stop the construction of the Aswan Dam of Egypt and the Merowe High Dam of Sudan, also known as Merowe Multi-Purpose Hydro Project or Hamdab Dam (“Merow”). The Reason…well, Sudan is not Ethiopia when it comes to Egypt, and Asawn…well, it is Egypt’s dam. After all, Egypt claims the totality of the Nile River water with Sudan. So, that goes for Egyptians’ trust of Sudanese and mistrust of Ethiopians. What is unfortunate is that the Environmentalists’ similar allegation against Gibe III Dam.

III. SUDAN’S MEROW DAM

Merowe is a large construction project in Merowe Town in Northern Sudan, about 350 km north of the capital Khartoum. It is situated on the river Nile, close to the 4th Cataract where the river divides into multiple smaller branches with large islands in between. Merowe is a city about 40 km downstream from the construction site at Hamdab. The main purpose of the dam is generation of electricity. Its dimensions make it the largest contemporary hydropower project in Africa.

Merowe’s Effects on Environment and Inhabitants: When it comes to concerns, Merow is not different from Gilgel Gibe III, be it environmental or people.

1. Displacement: It caused the displacement of an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 people who were residents of the area which covered by the reservoir lake, mainly belonging to the Manasir, Hamadab and Amri tribes.

2. Human Rights Violations: UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari once issued a statement, calling for a halt to dam construction at Merowe until an independent assessment of the dam’s impacts on the more than 60,000 people who stand to be displaced by the dams at Merowe and Kajbar. Kothari alleged reservoir of Merowe destroyed dozens of homes in the area and put many more at risk.

3. Archeological Concern: The dam covered a place where it was inhabited by people through nearly all periods of (pre)history, but very little archaeological work has ever been conducted in this particular region. Recent surveys have confirmed the richness and diversity of traceable remains, from the Stone Age to the Islamic period. However, now there won’t be any chance for archeology.

4. Environmental Impact:

1. Sedimentation: The resettlement area is a vast area with an expected 50,000–70,000 inhabitants who would be going through a transitional period for a few years before the get acclimatised & psychologically adapted to the new-life ahead. Governing by the two eminent health impact experiences of New Halfa resettlement projects and Aswan Dam in Egypt, strategic health planning ought to start early to foresee what water born diseases and other ecological health problems (such as bilharziasis, malaria) are likely to prevail and to plan how to guard against that.

2. Evaporation: The creation of the reservoir lake will increase the surface area of the Nile by about 700 km². Under the climatic conditions at the site, additional evaporation losses of up to 1,500,000,000 m³ per year can be expected. This corresponds to about 8% of the total amount of water allocated to Sudan in the Nile Waters Treaty.

5. International and Domestic Concern: More so it had an International political impact as Nile is shared by 10 Riparian countries and domestic concerns because of South Sudan and Darfur unrest.

Regardless of this the environmentalists who worked hard to stop the financing of Gibe III have not made efforts to stop construction of Merow Dam.

IV. EGYPT’S ASWAN DAM

Aswan (Assuan) is a city on the first cataract of the Nile in Egypt. Two dams straddle the Nile River at this point: the newer Aswan High Dam, and the older Aswan Dam or Aswan Low Dam. The aim of this water project was to prevent the river’s flooding, generate electricity and provide water for agriculture. The old Aswan Dam is about 1000 km up-river from Cairo or 686 km as the crow flies heading 166.8 degrees. The new Aswan High Dam is 4 km upriver from the older dam.

Aswan Dam has caused a number of environmental and cultural problems:

1. Displacement: It flooded much of lower Nubia and over 60,000 people were displaced. However, it allowed new settlements to be planned on an improved basis.

2. Archeological Concern: Lake Nasser flooded valuable archaeological sites such as the fort at Buhen.

3. Environmental Concern:

1. Fishing: Mediterranean fishing declined after the dam was finished because nutrients that used to flow down the Nile to the Mediterranean were trapped behind the dam.

2. Erosion: There is some erosion of farmland down-river as the river replenishes its sediment load. Erosion of coastline barriers due to lack of new sediments from floods will eventually cause loss of the brackish water lake fishery that is currently the largest source of fish for Egypt, and the subsidence of the Nile Delta will lead to inundation of the northern portion of the delta with seawater, in areas which are now used for rice crops. The red-brick construction industry, which used delta mud, is also severely affected. There is significant erosion of coastlines (due to lack of sand, which was once brought by the Nile) all along the eastern Mediterranean.

3. Fertility: The delta itself, no longer renewed by Nile silt, has lost much of its fertility.

4. Evaporation and Disease: As salt water stagnates and evaporates it leaves behind salt crystals on the soil, causing salinisation and decreased yield. Furthermore, the standing water is a breeding ground for snails carrying the parasite bilharzias, the second most socio-economically negative parasite, second only to malaria. Due to the Aswan Dam inhibiting the natural fluctuations in water height, i.e. floods, the bilharzias disease has flourished causing great expense to the Egyptian economy and people. The battle with the disease continues. The valuable silt which the Nile deposited ashore in the yearly floods and made the Nile floodplain fertile is now held behind the dam. Silt deposited in the reservoir is lowering the water storage capacity of Lake Nasser. Poor irrigation practices are water-logging soils and bringing salt to the surface.

5. Pollution: The increased use of artificial fertilizers in farmland below the dam has caused chemical pollution which the traditional river silt did not. Indifferent irrigation control has also caused some farmland to be damaged by water-logging and increased salinity, a problem complicated by the reduced flow of the river, which allows salt water to encroach further into the delta.

6. Atalantic Ocean: The Aswan Dam tends to increase the salinity of the Mediterranean Sea, and this affects the Mediterranean’s outflow current into the Atlantic Ocean. This current can be traced thousands of kilometers into the Atlantic.

V. GIBE III DAM OF ETHIOPIA

Are the concerns of Gibe III different from the concerns of Merowe of Sudan, Aswan of Egypt, and Yangtze of China? If not why did EIB pulled its financing of Gibe III Dam? EIB made a decision to stop financing of Gibe III dam due to the pressure exerted by Environmentalists and activists from Friends of Lake Turkana, Kenya[1], Reform the World Bank Campaign, Counter Balance (Italy)[2], and International Rivers (Cameroon)[3] .

Environmentalists argued that the dam would affect “the ecosystems of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and Kenya’s Lake Turkana … [by] wreak havocking on the Omo River’s natural flood cycle.” African Resources Working Group (ARWG) disputed the findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment done by the Ethiopian Government citing more potential risk to the environment and the indigenous communities, mainly:

i. They urged the Bank not to fund the Gibe III because the affected communities could not withstand any more pressure on the little resources along the lake.

ii. Gibe III Dam would lead to the ecological and economic collapse around Lake Turkana, adding that it would also fuel tension in the volatile east African region, specifically[4]:

· Retreat of Lake Turkana (7m in depth in first 5 years); they said the construction of Gibe III dam would leave the lake and its inhabitants devastated as the lake could start drying up when its main source, the Omo River, is depleted by a huge dam in Ethiopia.

· A significant increase in lake salinity, and destruction of aquatic organisms

· Destruction of Indigenous Econom[ies]

· [Transboundary] Issues between Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya

· Hampering of Possible Regional Development

iii. They vehemently argued that Gibe III dam would violate human rights and social justice of the inhabitants of Lake Turkana as the dam is destroying their source of livelihood as well as their environment.

Nonetheless, the environmentalists have admitted that “ the idea of dams producing hydroelectric power” is not something to be disregarded, but they encouraged Ethiopia to pursue an alternative forms of energy development that avoid unacceptable trade offs which jeopardize indigenous economies and destroy the eco-system, like constructing small dams. Ethiopia is the poorest nation in the globe, and it is not an easy task for Ethiopians to pursue such an alternative route, loosing what could be a boost for its national economy. Hathaway knows that this task will not be an easy one, but he and his allies are telling Ethiopia that at any cost Ethiopia has to maintain the maximum river flow or slow construction of the dam to allow for adequate flow of water into Lake Turkana rather than the drastic five year damming plan currently in place.[5]

Next Stop: Africa Development Bank (ADB)

The so called Environmentalist group next stop is the ADB which they planned to pressure to stop funding. Reportedly, they have submitted complaints to the ADB in March and April alleging the Gibe III Dam violates the Bank’s policies on environmental and social assessment, poverty reduction, resettlement, public disclosure, and trans-boundary water management. They went to the extent of convincing donors not to fund ADB what they are not prepared to fund through EIB.

VI. CONCLUSION

EIB should not have stopped the financing of Gibe III. As it is shown is other dams across the globe, there are cons and pros of each and every construction of dam. The fair issue and the standard should always be if the benefit outweighs the concerns in constructing such huge dams. EIB and Environmentalists should stop using double standards and in no way shall not justify their partiality towards their financiers.

Had the government of Ethiopia not violated the human, civil and democratic rights of its citizens, Euro1.5 Billion could have been raised by Ethiopian Diaspora members saving Ethiopia from unnecessary saga with EIB and Environmentalists. Therefore, what EIB should know is that, at any cost now or later, Ethiopians will complete Gibe III dam construction. However, EIB would stand to loose its goodwill and trust with Ethiopians and the international community.

The author can be reached at tmulushoa@gmail.com.

[1] Contact Person, Ikal Angelei, +254 736 685 118 or +254 722 343 160

[2] Contact Person, Caterina Amicucci,), +39 349 852 0789

[3] Contact Person, Terri Hathaway, , +237 22 02 34 12; Peter Bosshard +1 510 848 1155

[4] http://internationalrivers.org/en/ngos/ikal-angelei-friends-lake-turkana-kenya

[5] Ibid

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