Gilgel Gibe tunnel collapsed two weeks after inauguration


By Peter Bosshard | International Rivers

On Januar 13, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister [genocidal dictator] Meles Zenawi inaugurated the Gilgel Gibe 2 scheme, the country’s biggest hydropower project. “It is possible to speed up development without polluting the environment,” Zenawi proudly declared as he cut the ceremonial ribbon. Yet this was wishful thinking.

Due to shoddy preparation, the project had already been delayed by more than two years. And less than two weeks after the inauguration, the project’s core component, a 26 kilometer-long tunnel, collapsed partly. Power generation had to be stopped for several months. Ethiopia’s hydro sector demonstrates that there are not shortcuts to sound infrastructure development. Cutting corners does not “speed up development,” but produces costly mistakes.

Gilgel Gibe 2 has a price tag of 374 million Euros and a capacity of 420 megawatts. The project works without a reservoir, but channels the water discharged from the Gilgel Gibe 1 Dam through a long tunnel and a steep drop directly to the valley of the Omo River. The undertaking was plagued by shoddy management from the beginning. In violation of Ethiopian law, the government negotiated the project contract with the Italian construction company Salini without competitive bidding. No-bid contracts for public works projects are a big red flag of corruption. The Gilgel Gibe deal was awarded without a feasibility study, and construction started without the legally required environmental permit.

In violation of Italian law and against the recommendation of its own evaluators, Italy’s Ministry of Development Cooperation awarded 220 million Euros of aid money for Salini’s no-bid contract. Gilgel Gibe 2 was “the biggest development fund released to a single project in the history of the Italian Cooperation,” the Ministry says proudly. The European Investment Bank, which is notoriously weak in appraising power projects, contributed another 50 million Euros, and the Ethiopian government funded the remaining 104 million Euros.

Gilgel Gibe 2 was supposed to be completed in Dec. 2007. Yet the poor preparation soon took its toll. Deficient geological studies had overlooked sandy soils and aquifers in the rock. The tunnel boring equipment got stuck in the mud, and the engineers had to redesign the tunnel’s path. As we heard, the aqueduct collapsed only 12 days after its inauguration, nine kilometers inside the mountain.

Who pays the price for such development failures? The dubiously negotiated contract for Gilgel Gibe 2 exempts Salini from geological risks, so the Ethiopian electricity consumers and tax payers ended up paying for the cost-overruns. Salini will certainly try to shift the blame for the tunnel collapse to Ethiopia once again. In the meantime, the country’s poor remain without electricity, and the environment gets spoilt for nothing.

Italy’s Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale has documented the numerous legal problems and shortcuts of the Gilgel Gibe 2 project in detail. The Campagna’s Caterina Amicucci comments that aid projects like Gilgel Gibe 2 “not so much address a country’s urgent development needs, but subsidizes a major Italian company.” The Campagna and International Rivers have asked that the bill for the latest disaster be paid by Salini and not Ethiopia’s taxpayers.

Gilgel Gibe 2’s dodgy deal is the rule, not the exception in Ethiopia’s hydropower sector. The contract for the slightly smaller Tekeze Dam was awarded in 2002, and power generation was supposed to start in 2007. Yet in this case, the ground on which the dam was being built was too weak — a fact which a proper feasibility study would have found in advance. Landslides caused further delays, and the project was commissioned two years late in 2009.

The story doesn’t end with Gilgel Gibe 2 and Tekeze. In July 2006, the government awarded a $2.1 billion contract for the Gibe 3 Dam — its biggest infrastructure project ever — to Salini through direct negotiations. Again there was no competitive bidding. Again project construction started without an Environmental Impact Assessment and an Economic, Financial and Technical Assessment. If built, the Gibe 3 Dam will devastate the fragile ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, on which 500,000 poor farmers, herders and fisherfolk rely for their livelihoods. Even though the project violates Ethiopian law and their own safeguard policies, the African Development Bank and the World Bank are currently considering support for the project.

Will the collapse of the Gilgel Gibe 2 be a wake-up call for the World Bank and the African Development Bank? Latest news indicates that the financiers, who refused to get involved in Gilgel Gibe 2, may yet shy away from the dodgy Gibe 3 deal. They know that their credibility is on the line.


19 comments on “Gilgel Gibe tunnel collapsed two weeks after inauguration

  1. what is going on in God’s name? this happened with a complete knoweldge and awareness of the Italian government as I see it. they should be responsible for this corruption and the damage they are doing to the Ethiopian people. something need to be done before that country goes completely bankrupt right in front of our eyes. Intolerable!

  2. mohammed on

    Good Reporting though it is only picking the negative part.I don’t understand why people are so negative for every thing goverment does?Every project has its own problems.let alone this project in ethiopia,here in the U.S. where you have the worlds high tec. construction and monitoring technology.So p.s. when you write see the positive side too.

    thank you!

  3. Germa on

    The latest mishap with the collapse of the tunnel said to be directly connected to Mr.Alamudi.

  4. Belay Abebe, PhD, SE, PE on

    Elias you are the real son of ethiopia.

    There are no tunnels which are easy or difficult because of the overburden or the ground to be tunneled, but only stress-strain situations in the ground in which it is, or is not possible to control the stability of the excavation, which will depend on our knowledge of the pre-existing natural equilibriums, on a correct approach to the design and on the availability of adequate means for excavation and stabilization.

    Geological hazard and the lack of appropriate survey, design and construction instruments for tackling those terrains we call “difficulties”, with good prospects of success, have always made the design and construction of underground works a risky affair, which could not therefore be faced with the same degree of accuracy as other civil engineering works. As a consequence they have always occupied a subordinate position with respect to similar surface constructions and in the past they were only resorted to when the latter seemed impractical or of little use.

    However, decisive progress made in the field of geological surveys, the availability of powerful computers for making calculations and above all the introduction of excavation technologies that are effective in all types of ground have created the conditions for a qualitative quantum leap forward.

  5. This is a joke – International Rivers motive has become very transparent – it’s to enrich their clients at the expense of the Ethiopian and Kenyan people.

    Gilgel Gibe, despite the lies of International Rivers, is operational right now.

    I urge Salini to sue International Rivers for defamation and bankrupt this morally bankrupt organization whose only aim is to enrich few corrupt individuals.

  6. Anonymous on

    Mr. Peter Bosshard,
    It is ok. Although we would like you to write it the same way as the editor putted it, we, the Ethiopian review readers, do understand you did not write the part in prentices.

  7. Ewnetu Yineger on

    Mohammed, what did you want the man to say? Lie? If it makes you feel better, for God sake the blogger is a foreigner. There is a lot of mess back home that needs to be told. EFORT have made millions of dollars by stealing and looting from the people of Ethiopia. One thing must be known for Mohammed and people like him, we are not in Ethiopia and we can not be told not to be informed.

  8. warkaw on

    If you don’t want to pay for investigation and feasibility study, then you pay 10 times more for remmedial works after failure.

  9. Yonas W on

    Dear Peter Bosshard,

    All true and well informed Ethiopians know the real motive of International Rivers. It is true that most Ethiopians hate the Regime of dictator Meles Zenawi. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to see Ethiopia make a pace towards development whatsoever. Why didn’t you mention the reason why this project was given to the Italian firm Salini? Because you guys invested a lot and lobbied aggressively so that Ethiopia wouldn’t get any financial support from the giant donors. That was why Ethiopia looked in to other options and found a willing and collaborative firm to finance the major fraction of the cost..and it was Salini. All things in the beginning face flaws..this is natural.. Ethiopia will definitely thrive in the end..and we will also be able to fight our internal enemies (dictators) and also our international enemies like you guys. Down with International Rivers and all other foes of Ethiopia.

  10. Engineer on

    The collapse occurred when the tunnel had been excavated and lined already, therefore it cannot be linked with insufficient geological studies in the pre-contract phase. No doubt the problem will soon be solved by the same professional builders that excavated such long, deep tunnel in a very short time.

    Mr Bosshard is a detractor of any hydro project, even when, as for Tekeze were successfully completed under conventional procedures.

    If Ethiopia does not develops her water resources, will be enslaved by those who sell oil for thermal plants (Mr Bosshard?) and so much for carbon pollution!

  11. Peter Bosshard on

    I hesitate to respond to people who define what “true” Ethiopians (or US Americans, or in my case, Swiss) are. Can’t “true” citizens disagree in a democratic society? Anyway, just for the record, we never lobbied against Gilgel Gibe 2. The project works without a reservoir and could be environmentally relatively benign, if it were properly planned.

  12. fiker on

    the content of this article is full of pessimistic view. what is wrong if it is collapsed, we will learn from it, that is why america, and european reach to this stage. they crashed so many machines, rockets, etc
    i dont see any problem, i am very sure the ethiopian govenment will handle it. seytan endaysema , teru teru aweru esti selagerachehu!

    bye for now,

    fiker

  13. ቲመርጋ መሓመድ on

    እኔ ከሶስት ቀናት በፊት እዚያው ነበርኩ። ምንም ዓይነት ችግር አላየሁም። ምንአልባት “ግልግል ጊቤ 2” የሚባል በውጭ አገር ይኖር እንደሁ አላውቅም። እዚህ ፕሮጄክት ላይ ሁለት ዓመት ላቤን አንጠፍጥፌ ሰርቻለሁ። በቀላሉ ይናዳል የሚል እምነትም ግምትም የለኝም። እባካችሁ ወንድሞቼ አታሟርቱ። ቢያንስ ቢያንስ ውድ የኢትዮጵያ ልጆች ሕይወታቸውን አጥተዋልና ለዚያም ክብር ስጡ! ደግሞም ወያኔ ተወግዶ እናንተ (የዲያስፖራ ፖለቲከኞች) ስልጣን ላይ ብትወጡ እኮ ኤሌክትሪኩ ያስፈልጋችኋል። ሟርቱም፣ በሬ ወለደም ማለቱ ይቅርባችሁ!
    ቲመርጋ መሓመድ

  14. People,

    It is all scheme and corruption. Meles and Co. cuts deals with foreign governments for fake projects to get money only and share it with those outsiders seemingly to do the project. They really don’t care about the quality of the project as long as Meles and Co and foreign companies get money from the poor Ethiopians and the West. In the name of “development”

  15. I also understand that some Westerners in support of neighboring countries such as Egypt who is important to the West are stopping development of Ethiopia and they do not want the development of Ethiopia period.

  16. Ermias on

    Ewnwtu yineger.i think you don’t understand what mehammed meant to say,he said inspite of the fact that gilgel gibe 2 is collapsed we have to say some healthier parts of the project,who knows when it is going to operate again.What will you say if all the probelms resolved shortly.One thing you should definetly know is evryone gets what he deserve after numerous trials.

  17. F G on

    Yonas W says:

    Dear Peter Bosshard,

    All true and well informed Ethiopians know the real motive of International Rivers. It is true that most Ethiopians hate the Regime of dictator Meles Zenawi. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to see Ethiopia make a pace towards development whatsoever. Why didn’t you mention the reason why this project was given to the Italian firm Salini? Because you guys invested a lot and lobbied aggressively so that Ethiopia wouldn’t get any financial support from the giant donors. That was why Ethiopia looked in to other options and found a willing and collaborative firm to finance the major fraction of the cost..and it was Salini. All things in the beginning face flaws..this is natural.. Ethiopia will definitely thrive in the end..and we will also be able to fight our internal enemies (dictators) and also our international enemies like you guys. Down with International Rivers and all other foes of Ethiopia.

    Mr Peter, our problem is ours. You foreigners get out of the way. Is that clear sir???

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