The Gibe III Dam must be stopped

EthiopianReview.com | March 27th, 2009

By Richard Leakey

You may have heard about the raging controversy regarding a massive dam that is under construction on the Omo River in Ethiopia. It is called the Gilgel Gibe III dam and it has a wall that will soar 240 metres high – this is the tallest of its type anywhere in the world. It will hold back a reservoir 150 kilometres long.

The Ethiopians say that they need this dam as it will provide 1800 megawatts of electricity. That will more than double the country’s current generating capacity in one hit, and according to their Prime Minister Ethiopia’s dictator, Meles Zenawi, it will solve a national energy crisis.He says they can’t afford not to have Gilgel Gibe III. He also claims that it will enable the country to store water and regulate the flooding downstream in the Omo River.

This new dam will produce far more electricity than the country is capable of consuming, most will be exported to neighbours like Sudan and Kenya.

I think that this project is fatally flawed in terms of its logic, in terms of its thoroughness, in terms of its conclusions.

It looks to me like the Environmental Impact Assessment was an inside job that has come up with the results that they were looking for to get the initial funding for this dam.

I and the Environmental Resources Group believe that rather than being beneficial to the river valley as the Ethiopian government say, the dam will produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic to both the environment and the indigenous communities living downstream.

Even if the science is in dispute – this is reason enough to invoke the precautionary principle and stop the project before it is too late because if the Ethiopian government is wrong, those communities living along the lower Omo River Valley all the way down into neighboring Kenya will pay a heavy price. I believe that one immediate consequence will be the aggravation of armed conflict in a war over the shrinking natural resources.

What do you think, should Ethiopia be allowed to go ahead despite the concerns of down stream environmental and social impacts affecting over 500,000 people and Lake Turkana in Kenya?

(Richard Leakey established WildlifeDirect to create a direct relationship between those at the front line of conservation and those who care anywhere in the world. He is the chairman of WildlifeDirect. All donations made on this blog will contribute towards the training and technical support to blogging members on wildlifedirect.org)