UNESCO urges Ethiopia, financiers to halt construction of Gibe III until social, environmental
impact is assessed
A view of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia where the Gibe III Dam is being contracted.
The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) has rejected calls by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, urging Ethiopia to immediately halt all construction on the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric Dam that is being constructed at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars. The dam is expected to generate 1,870 mw of electricity.
“The positive impact on the ground, which is revealed by the social and environmental impact studies, should be judged against different externalities that can result from the construction of the dam,” Meheret Debebe, CEO of EEPCo, told Fortune.
The Heritage Committee, in its 35th session held in Paris, from June 19 to 29, 2011, expressed its concern about the construction of the Gibe III Dam, and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana.
It warned that the Gibe III Dam is likely to significantly alter Lake Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic species and associated biological systems, and may pose an imminent danger.
In explaining how the issue might not be related to Kenya, Meheret responded that Ethiopia has extensive institutional, professional and governmental forums with Kenya to discuss about different issues concerning the dam project.
Mihret pointed to what he called other entities outside Kenya who are behind the campaign against the dam, which refuse to give up their fervour against the construction of the dam, he claimed.
He asserted that Ethiopia will continue to build Gibe III despite different accusations.
The committee also urged that Ethiopia immediately halt all the construction on the Gibe, and also called for all financial institutions supporting the Gibe III dam to put their financial support on hold until the Committee reviews this issue at its 36th session in 2012. It has also requested Ethiopia to submit its environmental impact assessment of two other proposed Gibe IV and Gibe V dams on Gibe River.
Nonetheless, the Ethiopian government reaffirmed its previous position that the project has no harm to Lake Turkana, noting that the project has been thoroughly studied by both domestic and international experts who showed that it is economically valuable and environmentally friendly.
“No matter what is reported, the project will continue, and financing to the project is certain as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has provided 470 million dollars, and the remaining might be covered by Ethiopia,” Misikir Negash, public relations officer for EEPCo, told Fortune.
Currently, 46pc of the project has been completed, of which 40pc of it was funded by the Ethiopian government, he also stated. He blatantly dismissed the accusation by the World Heritage Committee as "baseless" and paralleled it to the previous accusations by different international non-governmental groups.
Likewise, top officials at the Gilgel Gibe III Project management told Fortune that environmental and social impact assessments undertaken show that the dam will contribute positively to downstream quarter by providing a regulated flow of the Omo River, which is naturally characterised by fluctuations in flow. The project has also arranged to discharge a 50 cubic metre minimum standard ecological flow, 10 days of free discharge in September, added to nine other streams which are already there and can maintain downstream ecology during water harvesting phase.
“Once the dam becomes operational, the project is generally positive and well studied, so we have no expectation that the decision by the committee would change our position,” claimed a high level manager under condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had repeatedly responded to similar accusations by various environmental lobbyists such as Survival International and many others contending “They don’t want to see a developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum,” the prime minister argued.
“The decision from UNESCO based on the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is not made by the entire UN,” stated one legal analyst. “It is just a decision passed by one of many UN agencies. Even if ratified, the decision made by the World Heritage Committee clearly states the word “urge” which is not mandatory,” argued the legal expert.
The world cultural and natural heritage does not have an enforcement clause to implement the decisions made by the committee, explained the expert.