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Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam, Land Grabs Put 500,000 People at Risk: Survival International

LONDON, United Kingdom

The controversial Gibe III Dam, which is set to begin operations next year, and land grabs in the Lower Omo Valley will leave 500,000 local people in Ethiopia and Kenya at risk of conflict and hunger, according to Survival International, a London-based organization working for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide.

The organization calls for an immediate suspension of the dam and accuses aid agencies of “turning a blind eye” to the “catastrophe.”

Gibe III is being built on the Omo River, 600 kilometers north of Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world. The dam is expected to reduce the river’s flows, there by decreasing the water available to farmers and pastoralists and threatening the lake’s aquatic life.

Survival International pointed to three reports published in the last year that have raised serious concerns about Ethiopia’s dam and irrigation plans for the Lower Omo Valley. 

The most recent report, “Humanitarian Catastrophe and Regional Armed Conflict Brewing in the Transborder Region of Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan: The Proposed Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia,” published by the Africa Resources Working Group in February and available online at http://www.arwg-gibe.org/, found that the river’s flow could be reduced by as much as 60-70 percent, leaving all downstream residents scrambling for water.

International Rivers’ report, “The Downstream Impacts of Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam – East Africa’s Aral Sea in the Making?” released in January and available online at http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/gibe-iii-s-impacts-on-lake-turkana-7773, warned that if Ethiopia completes the dam and irrigation projects as scheduled, “the result will be a cascade of hydrological, ecological and socio-economic impacts that will generate a region-wide crisis for indigenous livelihoods and biodiversity and thoroughly destabilize the Ethiopia-Kenya borderlands around Lake Turkana.”

Earlier this month, Zachery Hurwitz, policy coordinator at International Rivers, told OOSKAnews that maintaining healthy river ecosystems is a necessity.

“I think we are getting to a tipping point with the health of the world’s rivers in terms of the actual ecosystem functions that they are playing.”

Hurwitz said the added pressure of climate change will increase tensions around controversial dams. Using “dams to contain water to hedge against climate uncertainty brings up a number of problematic issues. One is: How do you know how much water is going to be available for storage in the first place?”

International Rivers has called on aid agencies to stop funding the dam. The UK government's aid agency – the Department for International Development (DFID) – is a large donor to Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services program, which is funding the relocation and resettlement of people in the valley.

Survival International says the government is aware of the rights abuses going on in the Lower Omo Valley, and that the resettlement program would not be possible without its funds.

Survival International specifically singles out DFID for sending a team of officials to investigate claims of abuse, including denying access to the Omo River, destruction of grain stores and military intimidation tactics, and then reporting that a more detailed investigation was needed to “substantiate” the information.

“UK money is bankrolling the destruction of some of the best-known pastoralist peoples in Africa,” Survival International Director Stephen Corry said in a statement. “The UK government is renowned for only paying lip service to human rights obligations where tribal peoples are concerned. When it comes to human rights in Ethiopia, DFID’s many commitments are worthless.”