Opposition to the mega project by conservation lobbies may be much ado about nothing, argues YELIBU BELEW
The controversy surrounding the construction of Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam, pitting development against conservation, has climbed a notch higher.And even as construction of the mega-project, estimated to cost US$2.7 billion, goes full steam ahead, it has emerged that opposition to the project by conservation lobbies may be much ado about nothing.
Indeed, the Ethiopian Government has waded into the controversy with a tacit assertion that not only were wide consultations done on the viability of the project, but environmental impact assessment tests were carried out in accordance with strict national and international standards.
The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) did thorough environmental and social impact tests before construction started and these complied with international requirements as reflected in the policies, safeguard procedures and guidelines of the African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and the World Bank.
The studies covered wide-ranging areas, including environmental and social impact assessment (dam and reservoir), downstream impact, social management plan, resettlement action plan, roads realignment, public consultation and disclosure plan and archaeological studies and mitigation in the reservoir area.
The studies laid strict emphasis on local communities and a series of public forums were held between 2006 and 2008, with local, regional, zonal and federal officials and institutions taking part. Work on the dam, with a height of 243 metres, is nearing 50 per cent completion and the technology being used is that of Roller Compacted Concrete. When fully operational, the dam will hold 5.7 million cubic metres, with a crest length of 610 metres and width of 10 metres. Height above sea level will be 896 metres.
The excavation and lining works for the three diversion tunnels is already complete.And over and above generating massive electric energy for Kenya, Ethiopia and neighbouring states, the dam will improve road access, health stations, schools, provide pure water and sanitation services, hitherto non-existent or in a poor state.
The project offers enormous hope for indigenous tribes whose fishery production has been rudimentary. The project will now enable them to employ modern systems so that, above household consumption quantities, larger markets can be accessed.This is in contrast to observations made earlier by lobby groups and conservationists that the dam will deplete water levels and imperil marine and agricultural life of the people of the area where Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan meet.
Some 200,000 indigenous people live in the Lower Omo Valley through which the river passes and they rely on its yearly floods both for subsistence farming and to support their animals.
The project is located 450km South of Addis Ababa in the Welayta and Dawro zones and is some 155km downstream of the Gilgel Gibe II Powerhouse, itself operational since September 2009. The quality assurance and design review work for the dam is a joint venture between well-known international consultants ELC Electroconsult of Italy and Coyne et Bellier of France.
Once completed, Gibe III is scheduled to produce some 1,870 megawatts of power. The project, scheduled to be fully commissioned in 2013, will boost the country’s hydropower generation capacity enormously and enhance energy production by 800MW, equivalent to 234 per cent. The scheme will, as a net effect, drastically increase what Ethiopia produces many times over. The project, the second largest in East Africa after DRC, will support the country’s Universal Electrification Access Programme, which aims to double access to electricity within a few years.
The project will assist the communities living downstream with reliable and timely water supply and arrest irregular floods which wash away crops. It will also reduce evaporation losses in the flood plains. The continuous water supply will reduce extended drought periods for the people, thereby bringing stability and predictability.
Contrary to claims that the future of Lake Turkana may be in jeopardy from reduced water levels, the project will ensure sustainable flow and positive hydrological balance to the Lake, which is characterised by high rates of fluctuations and level reduction at an alarming rate.
It will also accelerate cross-border trading in electricity with neighbouring states and shift focus from thermal power, which is expensive and insufficient, to hydro-generation both in the region and in the international power markets
The author is Deputy Ambassador of Ethiopia to Kenya
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