A massive hydroelectric dam project on Ethiopia's Omo River will devastate at least 200,000 tribal people, Survival said today.
Survival is launching an urgent campaign calling on the Ethiopian government to halt the dam (known as Gibe III), and urging potential international funders, including the Africa Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank and the Italian government not to support the project.
Italian company Salini Costruttori, has been contracted to build the dam. The same company built the smaller Gibe II dam, part of which collapsed 10 days after it was opened in January.
The dam will end the Omo's natural flood, which deposits fertile silt on the river banks, where the tribes cultivate crops when the waters recede. In a region where drought is commonplace, this will have devastating consequences for the tribes' food supplies.
The tiny hunter-gatherer Kwegu tribe, for example, will be pushed to the brink as fish stocks will be reduced. Six Kwegu, including two children, recently died of hunger because the rains and flood failed.
The Ethiopian government plans to lease huge tracts of tribal land in the Omo Valley to foreign companies and governments for large-scale production of crops, including biofuels, which will be fed by water from the dam.
Most of the tribal people who will be affected by the dam know nothing about the project. The Ethiopian government is clamping down on tribal organizations, and last year closed down 41 local "community associations" making it impossible for communities to hold meetings about the dam.
The Omo River is the primary source of Kenya's famous Lake Turkana, which supports the lives of 300,000 people who pasture their cattle on its banks and fish there. The dam will threaten their survival too. Both the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said on Friday that Kenya had the capacity to produce enough electricity to sustain its growing demand for power if it properly invested in the wind power farm in Turkana and that it did not need to rely on importing electricity from Ethiopia after the dams? construction. "I think dam building particularly when it involves trans-boundary river basins and water courses, then it is always a highly complex and sensitive subject. But I have certainly followed the public debate and I share the concerns that have not yet been adequately answered. It is essential that these impacts be looked at early,? he said noting that the construction of the dams would reduce the water levels in Lake Turkana which would subsequently be detrimental to the success of the wind farm."
"Lake Turkana receives 80-90 percent of its water from the River Omo; thus the impacts of the dam on the lake and the people who depend on the lake system for, for example fisheries, protein and livelihoods could be profound if its construction and operation negatively affect flows and seasonal flooding," added Nick Nuttall, the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) spokesman.
Survival together with the the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank, Counter Balance coalition, Friends of Lake Turkana and International Rivers have launched a petition to stop the dam.