Much Ado about Nothing


Gebre Hagos  05/20/19

I have read Lori Pottinger’ article in the Los Angeles Times. It is with regard to the construction of Gilgel Gibe III hydro-electric power plant. It is part and parcel of a propaganda campaign to thwart the on-going construction of the dam designed to benefit not only the Ethiopian people but also the people in the neighboring countries of the sub-region. These same reporters with ill- intentions are the ones who propagate day in and day out that Ethiopia is the least developed, continuously affected by drought and unable to improve the living standards of its people. When a dam is being built to alleviate the living standards they have to cry foul because again that will totally foil their ill-intentions.

The article ostensibly attempts to speak for the people as though they are the chosen ones to speak and not the Ethiopian government. On the pretext of an environmental issue, it tries to condemn the project as though it is the authoritative to speak on the project.

The writer is perhaps one of a group which takes delight in preserving the status quo. She describes the people living in the lower course of the preserving their” unique cultures tied to a harsh landscape”. These are people leading a communal society that eventually will be beneficiaries to the ongoing development process in the country. The main concern of the writer and her likes is not to improve their livelihood but to make the people and the area an ” ideal tourist place” for National Geography photographers and archeologists. This is quite obvious from the writer’s article where she prescribes what exactly these people need, “a small-scale water supply system where they live, increased capacity to grow food, crops, …..”. Why should  the government consider small scale if it is planning to develop irrigated agriculture in the area and improve food security not only for those in the locality but the whole country?

Now let’s see the technical argument.

If the writer gets it, the construction of the dam does not arrest the flow of the water but regulates it. Depending on the quantity of water in the reservoir, a number of turbines are driven at one time by the water head and the water continues on its flow. That is why two, three, four dams are built on the same flow as and when the topography permits.

The dam operates as a regulating weir where excess water is discharged before it causes floods downstream. In times of reduced rainfall, the quantity of water in the reservoir is regulated by driving fewer turbines and allowing the river to flow without any interruption. Like in any reservoir, there is some percentage of water lost from the dam due to evaporation. In this case, however, the rate of evaporation is much less than at Lake Turkana where its harsh arid climate and proximity to the equator aggravates the rate of evaporation. That is why the lake has been receding since the onslaught of global warming.

Next to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia is the second largest country in the continent of Africa endowed with tremendous hydro-electric potential. It has designed a  master plan on utilizing this environment-friendly source of energy in a judicious way . Estimated potential of hydro-power is in the order of 45 GW.  It is, therefore, appropriate that it continue to exploit this environment-friendly source of energy to spur its social and economic development .

Countries like the US have built a number of hydro-electric dams like the Hoover and the one on the Columbia river. There were and still are people who raise their concerns about such projects. However that has not prevented the construction of dams.

There has been a lot of concern about the Amazon forest being depleted because of the cutting of the forest for sugar cane cultivation and eucalyptus plantation. However, it is within the jurisdiction to the Brazilian government to decide on what best serves the interests of its people and has acted accordingly. Now, it has become the leading producer of an environment-friendly fuel, ethanol, from the by-product of its cane processing plant.

The writer uses hyperboles to justify her highly biased arguments, such as “ lousy investment”,  “most poorly planned”, “ most isolated”,  “fundamentally flawed”, and “luxurious preconditions.” It is not difficult to imagine why the writer used these phrases. The usage of these words is intended to  make it sensational and capture the eyes of policy-makers . It is a deliberate attempt to mislead financing institutions and bring the project to a halt, thereby to perpetuate the least developed image of the country.

The writer talks about climate change but nowhere discusses its major causes. It is now a widely accepted axiom that carbon dioxide emissions from  vehicles  and manufacturing facilities are the ones known to cause green house effect and consequently global warming.  A developing country like Ethiopia which has not in any way contributed to global warming should not be held accountable because it is building an environment-friendly hydro-electric dam. And hydro-electric energy is not something that is depleted but is a source of renewable energy.

I advise the writer to stop belaboring with illogical arguments to make us believe that a hydro-electric plant is detrimental. On the other hand, it is the most environment-friendly energy source and Ethiopia will continue to exploit its hydro-power resources wisely and keep our planet safe for generations to come.