Survival International's desperate attack on Gibe III dam project


Survival International's desperate attack on Gibe III dam project

[Yehune Belay April 2013]

Anti-dam activist groups, especially the three sister NGOs – Survival International, International rivers, and Friends of Lake Turkana – had left no stone unturned in their sinister but futile to stop the construction of the Gillegel Gibe III dam project.

The Gilegel Gibe III dam, which, upon completion, will generate about 1870 Megawatt (MW) hydro-electric power and becomes the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa, is hoped to transform the lives of millions in Ethiopia and Kenya. However, the project became a target of anti-dam groups, who, as Meles Zenawi denounced saying that:

    "these people are concerned that butterflies will be disturbed by such projects and they will not allow the disturbance of butterflies even if this means millions of people have to be subjected to the deadliest killer diseases of all, poverty, in order not to disturb the butterflies."

The first tactic of these anti-dam groups were funding organizations. They launched political campaigns against international funding institutions to drag the lending process, thereby prolong Ethiopia's road to escape poverty. But, to their surprise, the Ethiopian government withdrew its funding request and decided to construct the dam by its own money. At the time, both the anti-dam groups and others thought that the project will collapse.However, the booming Ethiopian economy, coupled with prudent fiscal policy and cost-effective construction methods, enabled the advancement of the project. It was only after the project progressed that a Chinese bank came in to lend some 495 million dollars for the purchase and installation of electrical and mechanical equipments of the project. World Bank finally came last year to finance the construction of transmission lines to Kenya.

The anti-dam groups launched campaigns against the Chinese and World Bank finances, but it was already clear that Ethiopia can finish and use the Gibe III dam without those funds.Therefore, the anti-dam groups went to all sorts of tricks to create international pressure and stop the project. They prepared flawed “studies”, launched petitions and demonstrations. They even succeeded to mislead one UNESCO committee, though that was a short-lived one.

All these attempts failed one by one and the project is 67% complete now. It is expected trial power generation by September 2013. This fact apparently created desperation among the anti-dam groups. As a result, their campaigns are turning to a naked amateurish attempts to blacken Ethiopia's international image and to saw the seeds of conflict.

The statement from Survival International this week, rehashing old and discredited claims, is a demonstration of the growing frustration and desperation among these anti-dam groups.In a press release this week, which was re-published by many western media, Survival International claimed that:

    “Three new reports predict disaster in Lower Omo Valley. Three independent reports have warned that the controversial Gibe III dam, and land grabs for plantations, risk imminent catastrophe in Ethiopia Lower Omo Valley.”

If you bother to go through the three reports and if you are familiar with the misinformation campaigns against Gibe III dam project, you will be hard-pressed to figure out what is “new” about them. Neither the authors, nor their reports are new. In fact, the documents themselves indicate that they are based on previous documents of the same authors in 2010 & 2011 – which were used in anti-Gibe III campaigns. They didn't even effort to improve as per the criticisms against them and the several studies conducted by other more credible experts & organizations since then.

It is difficult to understand how a researcher and NGO that continuously serves as a mouth-piece of the anti dam groups can be considered “independent”. It is also confusing what “land grabs for plantations” that Survival International is talking about. The only big project around Omo Valley is the government's Sugar project. Is that considered as a land grab? In fact, in all over the country, there is only about 300,000 hectares land leased by private investors and only 20% of it is leased for foreign investors.

Survival International’s statement, however, makes even more bizarre allegations. It claims:

    “the Ethiopian government’s Kuraz Sugar Project alone will cause Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, to drop by up to 22 meters”

The mention of the Sugar project in this context is intended to confuse nothing else. Whether the Sugar project is there or not, the dam will be managed as per its design and standards – that is, in a manner that won't harm downstream livelihood and water flow. So, the question should be: Will Gibe III dam cause Lake Turkana to drop by up to 22 meters? The question is intuitively ridiculous.

Mind you, Lake Turkana itself is 30 meters deep on average. If the 22 meters drop was a sensible claim the anti-dam groups would have been crying that Lake Turkana will dry. At any rate, their wild claims have been discredited by several research findings. (I will quote the summary of those findings as described recently by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

The United Nations Environment Programme report of February 2012 on the Gibe III Dam and its Potential Impact on Lake Turkana Water Levels, for example, noted that without any significant climate change the Omo River would continue to provide some 80% of the inflow into Lake Turkana, and that depending upon rainfall scenarios the median effect would produce a 2 meter fall in the lake levels over a seven month period while the reservoir was filling. Should the rainfall levels remain the same, there would be no change.

Alternatively, with below average rainfall, there would be a fall in the lake level of up to 4.3 meters during a period of eight to sixteen months while the reservoir was filling. The report also noted that the lake levels actually fluctuate three to four meters seasonally in any one year at the moment in any case. The most comprehensive study of the impact of the dam, done in 2010, calculated that the hydrological impact would be a fall of up to 2 meters, no more.

Only one study, by the African Resources Working Group in 2009, suggests anything more, and its claim of a fall of 10-12 meters is five times higher than others. It isn’t clear how it reached this figure. Moreover, the out-going Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga supported the Gibe III dam project last year saying that:

    ”We will lower the cost of energy through the importation of power from Ethiopia. We have engaged Ethiopia constructively. Ethiopia will sell electricity to us and we are financing this project because it will lower the cost of energy......The two governments formed a joint council to deal with matters arising as a result of the use of the Omo River waters".

Do the anti-dam groups claim to care about a Kenyan lake more than its Prime Minister?

Survival International and its sister anti-dam groups know very well that everyone is tired of their usual claims and Ethiopia is not going to halt its effort to make use of its natural resources. After all, Ethiopia's treasury is getting bigger by the day, therefore enabling her to pursue mega projects regardless of foreign finance. But Ethiopia is not a rich country yet. It needs economic assistance for her ambitious plans of socio-economic transformation. Therefore, the anti-dam groups are targeting Ethiopia's development partners so that to create a financial crisis and cripple Ethiopia's capacity to build the Gibe III dam. It is for this reason that Survival International's statement singled out key allies of Ethiopia's anti-poverty effort. It said:

DFID and USAID, the UK and US governments’ aid departments, are the largest single donors to Ethiopia. Both have received numerous reports of human rights abuses in the Lower Omo. DFID continues to fund Ethiopia’s ‘Protection of Basic Services’ program, without which the forced resettlement of thousands of tribal people probably could not be carried out.

To anyone reading the quote above, two questions should come to mind. Firstly, how is receiving human rights abuse allegations by itself is sufficient to stop assisting Ethiopia's grand socio-economic transformation that reduced poverty by half in less than a decade time? Of course, the aid agencies should investigate the allegations. And, they did.

The conclusions reached by the investigations is best represented by the remark made by Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for International Development, last month. Sir Malcolm Bruce said in an interview that:

    “DFID and other agencies have monitored the villagization program undertaking a dozen visits to the region, and regarding most of the allegations, what these review missions have concluded is that they could not substantiate the claims. They have not categorically rejected these allegations, but to the most part, they have not been able to return with evidence to substantiate the accusations....We cannot make decisions based on allegations”.

The second question that comes to mind from Survival International's claim – quoted above – is that: what made them say that the voluntary resettlement programs could not be carried out without the ‘Protection of Basic Services’ program?

Of course, they know that the ‘Protection of Basic Services’ program benefits rural education, health and agricultural extension services across the country. And, they also know that the Ethiopian government would maintain these crucial rural services at any cost. Therefore, the tactic is that Stop foreign assistance for these services, then the Ethiopian government will have two choices: Downsize rural services, then loose support from the rural population. Or, Stop the dam and maintain the finance for rural services. What they didn't know is that though Ethiopia is still poor country, it has built the developmental mindset and economic capacity to carry out mega projects regardless the blessing of outsiders. Not to forget, the diverse international relations that the Great Leader Meles Zenawi built so that Ethiopia won't be dependent on any single foreign partner. The absurdity of Survival International's statement is demonstrated when it claimed:

    “Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, said today, ‘UK money is bankrolling the destruction of some of the best-known pastoralist peoples in Africa.”

I believe it is sufficient to quote what Meles Zenawi said two years ago in response to such absurd claims. Meles said:

    “Their holier than though attitude is all the more ironic because these groups who have done virtually nothing to stop their countries from building all the dams they can build while at the same time single handedly subjecting our planet to the threat of catastrophe because of global warming are trying to stop projects in poor countries such as Ethiopia that are infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present. I am not a believer in conspiracy theories but if I were I would conclude that these people want Africa to remain as it currently is with all its misery and poverty so that they can come and visit nature in its pristine state in the winter every so often. Beyond conspiracy theories I believe the position taken by such groups is not only irrational but also bordering on the criminal.”

Finally, I shall state the obvious. Which could be a bad news and hard to swallow for the anti-dam activists. No matter what they say to blacken Ethiopia's image; the fact remains that Ethiopia will finish the Gibe III dam, will transform the lives of its pastoralists, progress with its voluntary villagization program and become a main sugar exporter country by 2015 - as per the Growth and Transformation Plan which is the brain child of the Great Leader.

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