As the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Egypt meet today at Addis Ababa to try to unlock a diplomatic deadlock – one with far greater implications than just diplomacy – over Ethiopia's plans to build a dam on one of the River Nile's major tributaries, a question arises as to whether Ethiopia has become too arrogant in its attempt to rejuvenate its economic growth.
The dam in question is the Grand Renaissance Dam being constructed along the Blue Nile River. If completed, this will be among the largest dams in the world and will join another rising colossus that is also under construction by the Ethiopians along the Omo River – the Gilgel Gibe III Dam. Ethiopia has already started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile as part of the construction process despite protests and thinly veiled threats of 'water wars' coming from the Egyptian government.
Perhaps the strongest sign that water wars are looming between the two countries is that immediately after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in May, Ethiopia announced that it was diverting the waters. What this could mean is that Ethiopia will forge on with their dam unfazed by any contrary opinion – even if their forging ahead threatens to catastrophically alter the existence of millions of people downstream.
Drawing parallels to Egypt's unfortunate situation with that facing Lake Turkana owing to the ongoing construction of Gibe III Dam along the Omo River – which contributes about 90% of all the water of Lake Turkana – one cannot fail to see a pattern of impunity in the Ethiopian Government: a government that will execute hugely disruptive projects without concern for contrary opinion even when such opinion is based on fact.
The repetitive chorus chanted by Ethiopia that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not affect the flow of the Nile, is the same empty rhetoric that has been applied in the case of Gibe III and Lake Turkana yet scientific evidence clearly shows that the Gibe dam will have a disastrous effect on Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Lower Omo Basin in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also claims that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not be used for irrigation but only for Electricity generation. Nobody should believe that given that that is the same thing they say about Gibe III – and all consequent Gibes planned downstream of this third dam – yet we know that huge tracts of land in the Lower Omo have already been wrestled from indigenous Ethiopian populations and leased out to Asian entities to be converted into sugar and cotton plantations. Only a lunatic would believe that Ethiopia will not use the dam water for irrigation.
What then is the option for Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya? These three African sisters - and all other nations in the world - should ponder on the big question of water scarcity that is escalating with the increasing severity of the effects of climate change and Africa's burgeoning populations. Currently, Egypt and Ethiopia have a combined population of almost 170-million people and this is projected to increase by another 100-million people by 2050. That can only mean that, climate change notwithstanding, water will definitely become an extremely dear commodity for both nations. Kenya on the other hand has more than 40-million thirsty inhabitants, a significant fraction of whom will be directly affected by the adverse effect of the Gibe III Dam on Lake Turkana.
Better ways of managing shared water and other natural resources are long overdue. If Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya are to properly harness their water resources, mutually beneficial resource sharing methods have to be thought out and quickly implemented. Respect for the lives and well-being of downstream populations has to be paramount. Impunity has to end.
The Gibe hydroelectric project is one of a series of damming projects that have been undertaken by the Ethiopian government. The project is a public-private partnership planned as a 25 year national energy master plan of Ethiopia. The planned increase in power generation, however far exceeds domestic needs with the surplus which is estimated at 50 percent being exported to the neighboring countries including Kenya which the Ethiopian Electric Power Company (EEPCo) predicts to export 500MW to.
Download Gibe III Fact sheet and other documents here to obtain more background information pertaining to the Gibe III project.
The Gibe III threatens the biodiversity, livelihoods, and development of Northern Kenya, yet these potential risks have not been taken into account in the project planning by the Government of Ethiopia. The project has been opposed by local and international environmental and human rights groups and advocates. However, it was ultimately approved based on an incomplete Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that did not adequately take into account the perspectives of indigenous communities around Lake Turkana.
To find out more about the threats the Lake faces with its construction, click here
Despite the potential impacts of the dam on the lake’s ecosystem and livelihoods, Ethiopia has continued to pursue the project without an adequate environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) or proper consultation with the Lake Turkana Basin communities. FoLT is therefore working to bring attention to the impacts which Gibe III Dam will have on the Lake Turkana region and peoples and to find lasting solutions to this social injustice.
Our Director, Ikal Angelei, has been announced as the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Reciepient for Africa in recognition of her tireless effort to save Lake Turkana from the dangers of the massive Gibe 3 Dam being constructed in Ethiopia’s Omo River.
In 2008, Ikal Angelei, who also works with renowned anthropologist and conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey, learned from the distinguished Kenyan of the construction of what will become Africa’s largest dam along the Omo River in Ethiopia. Ikal immediately recognized that the dam would be the death of Lake Turkana and the end of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and marginalized people in the Lower Omo Basin and Lake Turkana regions.
Ikal started her campaign to stop the construction of the dam which had started in 2006. Shortly, she and likeminded individuals formed the Friends of Lake Turkana. FoLT thus became the vehicle that would spearhead the campaign to stop Gibe 3 on its tracks. In the few years that Ikal and FoLT have campaigned against the dam, we have managed to convince several financing organizations, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank not to fund the construction of Gibe 3 – which is 40% complete – and convinced the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to issue a communiqué calling for a stop in the construction of Gibe 3. The Kenyan Parliament also passed a resolution requiring the government to demand an independent environmental Impact Assessment of the dam.
Ikal continues to trudge on as she is now pushing for the Kenyan government – which is in agreement with Ethiopia to purchase 60% of the electricity generated by the dam – to get out of the power purchase agreement thus make it unjustifiable for China to continue funding the dam owing to the diminished demand. As Ikal always says, “Aluta continua.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1989 by civic leaders and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his wife Rhoda H. Goldman to support individuals struggling to win environmental victories against the odds. It is meant to inspire ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the world. The phenomenal Prof. Wangari Maathai – RIP – won this Prize in 1991.
Read more about Ikal’s achievement in this blog post by Peter Bosshard of International Rivers, key supporters and partners of FoLT.
Learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize in their website.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), is a grassroots organization founded in 2009 whose mission is to foster social, economic and environmental justice in the Lake Turkana Basin.
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FoLT was co-founded by Ikal Angelei and some concerned Kenyans who became privy to information that Gibe III dam in Ethiopia was being built on the Omo River which is a shared river between Kenya and Ethiopia was a project of unacceptable trade-offs between the 2 countries, and would jeopardize indigenous economies, destroy ecosystem and exacerbate conflicts. It was founded in November 2008 and received fiscal and office support from Turkana Basin Institute . FoLT worked and continues to work closely with the people of Lake Turkana and advocates on their behalf. FoLT was officially registered under in the Ministry of Lands through the Trust Act in October 2009
FoLT’s initial undertaking was the campaign to conserve and protect Lake Turkana and its ecosystem as well as protecting the rights of the Lake Turkana communities by campaigning for the halting of Gilgel Gibe III dam until certain conditions had been met. The conditions included;
It was while undertaking this campaign that we identified the lack of community awareness of their rights, the policies and obligations of state and non state actors. During community meetings that we created partnerships with grassroots community based organizations, beach management units (whose mandate is within the lake beaches), local leaders and various community associations and realized the need for the FoLT to take up other roles that would expand its operations within environment and resource rights and governance of the Turkana Basin.