Ethiopia Pushes Ahead With Massive Dam Project

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Gilgel Gibe dam constraction 300x225 photo

Tunnel boring equipment at the Gibe 3 site

Ethiopia is pursuing a massive dam building project that it hopes will generate alternative sources of power, but its critics mainly backed by Egypt have said the endeavour will be an environmental disaster.

The government embarked on the project – expected to be the largest hydropower plant in Africa – to help solve a national energy crisis and to provide the energy needed for Ethiopia’s rapidly growing economy.

“The rural population will get electricity, the amount of megawatts we are going to produce is for all the population. It is not only for industry or towns it is for all nation,” Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s energy and water minister said.

Foundations have already been laid at the Gibe III dam, in Oromia in western Ethiopia. When completed, the dam’s 243-metre high wall will be the tallest of its kind in the world.

“Once finished, the electricity generated at this one dam will be enough to double Ethiopia’s power capacity, and there are other dams under construction.”

“The plan is for electricity to become Ethiopia’s biggest export.”

Controversy and criticism

Conservationists have criticised the project on the grounds that the dam’s huge reservoir will take time to fill, and by then the flow of the Omo River, in southwestern Ethiopia, would have dramatically reduced.

Conservationists said the biggest impact would be felt downstream along the lower Omo valley and Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

Ikal Angelei, a local conservationist with Friends of Lake Turkana, told reporters that when the dam is finished the lake could shrink by a third.

“We want them to use that water in the river that’s fine. But let us do it in a way that we can assess and see what impact it’s going to have; do we have enough flow in five or 10 years; [and] will we have the same amount of flow?

“Do we want to see Lake Turkana dry up?”

Some 80 per cent of Lake Turkana’s water comes from the Omo River.

The Ethiopian government has said that the flow of Omo will not change.

But many critics are unconvinced. There is even a Stop Gibe III campaign secretly funded by Egypt which alleges that the creation of the dam “will jeopardise the river’s fragile ecosystem forever and dramatically affect the life of about 500.000 people living in southwest Ethiopia and northern Kenya”.