The Gibe III Dam must be stopped

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

17 comments on “The Gibe III Dam must be stopped

  1. tazabi on

    What ! Should Ethiopia stop dam building activities. Because lake Turkana of Kenya is afected by the dam? You must be crazy. I think in my opinion Ethiopia should build additional fourth Gilgel Gibe 4 along down stream if possible. Only in this way we can provide our desperate shortage of power. The fate of those tribes down there is not much different from the rest of Ethiopians. And. I don’t care for Lake Turkana. Do you?

  2. yohannes on

    To: Richard Leakey (our environmentalist)

    This is our problem. we solve our problems by ourselves. unless you want use it for geo-political consumption. woyane will go and we will have a good relationship with all our neighbours. and leave us alone and let’s do what we have to do.

    we know that how some western countries get mad on china’s interferance on sudan’s oil production and your’s comment some how smells fishy like that.

  3. Derege on

    am actually surprised that after almost two wasted decades, something really good is comming from Woyane finally! I beleive this project is very essential for our country. We need several of such strategically significant projects if we want to see ourselves develop. Crying for investment and industralization is empty with out a dependable energy source, and this would be one for Ethiopia. In addition, provided it is designed well, the dam would improve the livelyhood of the surrounding people through increased fishery and irrigated agriculture. This is a project that should unite us, not ‘a dam that divide us’ according to some misplaced title. We should keep in mind that water is a resource getting even more scarce by the day. For centuries Ethiopia’s rivers have been blessing other countries and will continue to do so. It is up to us to step up to the plate and get a fair share of the blessing. When the time comes to share, of course some parties who were sole beneficiaries will not be happy to give up some. So they have started a media war in the name of the ‘environmnet’ and call Ethiopia to halt the construction. They urge the project stopped even when they admit that their argument is based on disputed science. This is the height of arrogance and an insult to all of us Ethiopians. Gilgel Gibe III is essential for Ethiopia and it is an example to how to dig ourselves from poverty! I urge everyone of us to stand up to the likes of Richard Leakey and the so-called “African Resources Working Group” to shut up!

  4. tsion on

    1. First of all who are you to allow and prevent ethiopia from doing this or that. What assesement you did to arrive to your conclusion?

    what have you ever done to the down stream people to help them and/or to improve thiere livelihood.

    It is because the project is done in Africa and you perfectly know Energy is the core of development, you are building an obstacle to destroy a poor country project.

    No body says nothing for all development projects in your country.

    Please stop agitating the people to spark war!!!!

  5. Daudi on

    Leakey’s right. The EIA is fundamentally flawed ( If the Ethiopian government is assured that this project won’t drain Turkana, why did they contract such a hack job assessment?

    The end result of this project will be to elevate L. Turkana salinity levels, kill the fish in the lake and totally disrupt the ecosystem. There are plenty of data available on the fragile chemical balance of the lake (see studies by Halfman, T. Johnson, Yuretich, Kallqvist, to name just a few). By altering the Omo River input, the ecosystem will be quickly and fatally disturbed and will further marginalize circa Turkana populations that depend on it.

    These issues will enhance cross border insecurity in the Lower Omo region and Ethiopian should not be surprised to see influxes of displaced people occupying grazing land in their marginally controlled border areas. Stop the Gibe project before it is too late.

  6. True Ethiopian on

    ምን አልባት ብዙሃኑ የሃገሪቱ ህዝብ ተጠቃሚ የሚሆን ይመስለኛል:: ስለዚህ ብዙ ማልቀሱ ጠቃሚ አይደለም:: ለብዙዎች ጥቂቶች መስዋእት ይከፍላሉ! ምናልባት የለመዳችሁት ለጥቂት ባለስልጣናት ብዙዎች ሲጎዱ ስለሆነ አይፈረድብንም:: እናም ወያኔዎች ቀጥሉበት እላለሁ!!

  7. Mohammed on

    We as a nation, need this dam. This project is our hope for the current power shortage we are facing also for the future. And we will build it. Even if Prime Minister Meles is the so called dictator, this time you have my VOTE.

    We have been silent on the Blue Nile issues. How long will the silence of Ethiopians should continue on our national interest?

  8. The only resource Ethiopia seems to have so far is water .People like you have ridiculed us for the same reason that we are not using our water resourses. you patronize us on being ‘the water tower of Africa’.But when we start to begin to use our waters you say we should be stoped.You can afford to make this remarks afterall what do you care about eighty million souls living in poverty?The only people that would be affected are the 500,000 kenyan brothers that may have to be relocated.

  9. doris on

    Its as if Ethiopia does one little thing to step out of porverty and you have all these haters all these busy body haters who only want to see Ethiopia begging for food aid. Build the dam and make us eof what is rightfully ours.

  10. Tobia Bugale on

    Here we have a person determined to kick the light out of near 80 million people in Ethiopia and some more millions in neighboring countries because he ‘ thinks and believes’ Gibe III dam willl have negative environmental impact without providing any solid evidence.. We are told of the ‘.. concerns of down stream environmental and social impacts affecting over 500,000 people’. This lame argument would have been valid if the Gibe III dam was designed as an irrigation project that siphons off the water from the community downstream. There is no diversion of the course of the river either.
    It is diabolical when some one at the comfort an air conditioned room powered by electricity generated by CO2 emitting or nuclear waste generating power station tries to block the construction of a very clean hydroelectric power station. You are dead wrong big time on this one Leakey!

  11. Nomad on

    Dr. Leakey is right and seemingly a large percentage of Ethiopia do not understand the Transboundary issues, River Omo is not just Ethiopian but also Kenyan. We in Turkana will fight for the survival of the lake which is our life and even if blood must be shed, so be it. Woyane and his cronies will not use us as collateral damage to stay in power. For those saying Addis is in the dark, where is all the power from Gibe I and II and Tekeze???

  12. Tess on

    In my openion this dam is the most important for ethiopia also kenya incluiding people depend on the turkena. The issue is that the people life depends on turkena lake is not that modern to speak in the first place.

    In regarding that we will stop building the dam if any country is willing to provide basic necesseties for the people, that is ,housing, food and clothes as happen in Europe or America.

    But at this moment the only means to change the life of people arround turkena or along the omo river gorge to build a dam to creat sustainable economey and to settle the people in the area by providing water resource for irregation .

    If any one come with different idea or solution it is well comed for his/her initiatives and interest to assist the people in deed in need. It is the only resource that can be tapped of to generat capital or investement in the area.


  13. W.N. Haile on

    the so called SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL is just digging a fund to survive for themselves on the expense of Gigel Gibe III Dam Project!!! they realy do not want Africa to make real Development.!!!!! SUPPORT GILGEL GIBE III DAM PROJECT!!!!!!!!!

  14. country on

    Few things surprise me:
    1) Every body talks about environmental impact when it comes to developing countries. Who can stop those who pollute the world as a whole? So is better if you shut up. We are doing our homework. Even though we oppose the government from political point of view, we are one and one when it comes to mother Ethiopia. Did you read the posts? All Ethiopian guys comment says go ahead Gibe III. So don’t try to provoke the people for foolish staff because just it does not work. Why? Because we are one and one when it comes to mama Ethiopia.

    2) People think about living at the cost of Ethiopian people life and yet the resource is ours. This is like calming you guys die and let others live even if the resource is yours. I say find out your own resource rather than clinging on others.

    Kenyans are our friends and partly one people also. I know who is behind there. Ethiopian people are actually reasonable people when it comes to ‘what about other people life’? I am sure we consider the mutual benefit. But if you say me alone, the days are not long to bow down for mutual benefit. I tell you other side of Ethiopianism. We never forgive!!! We are happy to live with friends mutually. Don’t expect yes from us when you say no today. I swear, we will never forgive you. We know our enemies well. The days are good now. Rather than trying to stop Gibe III better to stop your dead or else it will be too late.

    Thank you mediator even though I don’t believe you post this.

    Ethiopia will rise!

  15. Gemeda on

    Most of the comment,i read following the your article is supporting the project it is a disaster for Elias and your website.I love it.

    Sometime you have to be careful what to post not to post.

    When we come to our country development issue we all are unites as i see here.

    I think nobody hates to see his or her country develop.


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