Ethiopia stands firm on the Gibe 3 hydro dam projectBy ARGAW ASHINE in Addis Ababa | Wednesday, August 17 2011 at 15:10
Ethiopian authorities have turned down a strong demand by Kenyan lawmakers to stop the construction of the controversial Gibe III hydro-electric power dam, terming it "unthinkable."
The massive dam, that is expected to cost $1.7 billion, has come under sustained criticism from mainly western rights groups over what they say are the negative environmental and social impacts and the threat it is said to pose to the livelihoods of an estimated 500,000 people living in Kenya.
Kenyan Members of Parliament last week demanded the Ethiopian government stop all construction until an independent environmental impact assessment was done, saying that communities living around Lake Turkana would be affected.
The dam is being constructed on the Omo River, which contributes an estimate 90 per cent of Lake Turkana, a water body that sits astride the Kenya-Ethiopia border.
But Gibe project head Azeb Asnake has defended the dam and said that impact assessment studies done by the Ethiopian government and other independent parties had clearly shown that there was no evidence of any form of damage to the Lake Turkana ecosystem.
"In fact a new study prepared by donors and other concerned parties reveals the opposite findings," she said.
"The assessment clearly defined ways the dam will help conserve the areas surrounding the site and will help to control the flow of water that has been a major threat for the people who live along the banks of the river until it reaches the Lake Turkana" she added.
The Ethiopian government is said to suspect that some Kenyan MPs may have been roped into the "baseless" NGO campaign to stop the construction of the dam.
Mr Mihret Debebe, the chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), said that suspending the project was untenable and that the accusations were based on unreliable information generated by campaign groups that "stand against African self-reliance interests".
"Suspending the project is unthinkable. Ethiopia will continue to build Gibe III dam despite different accusations," said Mr Mihret, adding that there were various forums to resolve any concerns between the two countries.
"The positive impact on the ground, which is revealed by the environmental and social impact studies, should be judged against different externalities that can result from the construction of the dam," he said.
The project targets to generate 1,870 Megawatts of electric power that would also be exported to Kenya with the grid line between the two countries said to be almost ready. Construction work started in 2006 and the dam is expected to come into service in 2013.
The United Nations recently added its voice to the controversy, calling for work on the dam to stop until the negative impacts of the dam were determined. (Read: UN calls for halt to giant Ethiopian dam project)
Rich fossil finds
The World Heritage Committee, the UN arm which establishes sites to be listed as being of special cultural or physical significance, said the dam's construction endangered the existence of Lake Turkana which was also an outstanding research area for plant and animal communities.
"The area's rich fossil finds have allowed reconstructing the history of animal species and mankind over the past two million years," the committee said in a letter to the Ethiopian and Chinese governments after its annual meeting in late June.
China is providing $470 million through a state-owned bank to fund the construction of the dam while the Ethiopian government is meeting the rest of the cost. The European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank and the World Bank have however withdrawn their pledges for funding the dam which is being constructed by an Italian company, Salini Construction.
An Ethiopia-Kenya ministerial committee meeting over cross-border issues two months ago also discussed the Gibe III dam.
The Kenya side led by acting foreign minister George Saitoti sought the establishment of a cross-border resource management team and information on the dam.
Ethiopia's delegation led by deputy prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn was said to have been lukewarm to the request and promised to come back with its final position on the project within six months.
Ethiopia is also set to build an additional two dams; Gibe IV and Gibe V on the Omo River.
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