Gilgel Gibe 3 Hydropower Dam is the largest investment project ever implemented in Ethiopia. At 240m high and with a capacity of 1,870MW, the dam will block the south western part of the Omo River, creating a 150km long basin which will damage the river’s fragile ecosystem indefinitely and jeopardise the lives of half a million people in southwest Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
The Dam is already under construction. The works started in 2006 with an expected cost of 1.4 billion euros, which does not include mitigation measures and compensation for the affected population. In violation of Ethiopia’s law and international standards, with no competitive bidding, the Ethiopian government signed a contract with the Italian company Salini Costruttori. According to Ethiopian law, an environmental and social impact assessment is supposed to be carried out before any project is approved. Despite this, the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency approved retrospectively, two years after construction work started, an assessment study which was paid for by EEPCo (Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation) and Salini, raising questions over its independence and credibility.
According to the African Resources Working Group (ARWG), a group of international academics with ties to Ethiopia, “the quantitative [and qualitative] data included in virtually all major sections of the report were clearly selected for their consistence with the predetermined objective of validating the completion of the Gibe 3 hydro-dam”, and there is evidence that the dam will have an enormous impact on the delicate ecosystem of the region by altering the seasonal flooding of the Omo River and dramatically reducing its downstream volume. If the natural flood with its rich silt deposits disappears, subsistence economies will collapse, leading to food shortages and insecurity for the hundreds of thousands of people now living in the Lower Omo Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all the way down to the world’s largest desert lake, Kenya’s Lake Turkana.
The construction of the dam violates the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and it does not comply with any of the seven strategic priorities of the World Commission on Dams. Moreover, in violation of the Ethiopian Constitution, the affected communities were not properly consulted and have not received any information about the project being implemented on their land.
The lack of democratic space in Ethiopia prevents project affected people, local NGOs and academics to openly express criticisms against the Gibe 3 project, in fear of government-sanctioned retaliation. The government of Ethiopia is now seeking international financing to complete the Gibe 3 Dam, and has submitted official funding requests to the Italian Government, to the European Investment Bank, to the World Bank and to the African Development Bank.