By Yehune Belay
Tigrai Online, October 28, 2013
The Gillgel Gibe III dam hydropower project is now more than 75% complete. It is expected to start generating power early next year, when its first turbine becomes operational.
The rest nine turbines will be installed and become fully operational until April 2016, thereby providing the total generating capacity of 1870 MW.
To meet the plan ahead, the task to finish the 246 meters long roller compacted dam, which will be one of the highest of its kind in the world, is well underway that more than 250 thousand meter cube of concrete is compacted every month.
The dam will be about 150 kilometers long. The Roller Compacted Concrete technology, which is used for the dam, has not only enabled time-efficient project performance but also reduced the amount of cement used by one third. Not to forget, the deligence and committment of the more than 7,000 workers of the project.
The Gibe III Hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia's 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan(GTP) and its plan to attain middle-income status by 2025.
Gibe III is not merely a national project. It is of regional significance. It will benefit Kenya, Djibouti and South Sudan, among others.
Last week, a prominient Kenyan media reported that:
"Kenya will soon begin buying cheaper electricity from Ethiopia. The two counties have secured partial funds for construction of a 1,068-kilometre power line, expected to be completed in September 2018.
The 102 billion shillings Eastern Electricity Highway project will run from Ethiopia into several towns along the border in North Eastern Kenya."
Similarly, the former Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, supported the Gibe III dam project last year saying that:
”We will lower the cost of energy through the importation of power from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia will sell electricity to us and we are financing [the power-transmission line] because it will lower the cost of energy".
Despite Gibe III Hydropower project's promise to transform the lives of millions in Ethiopia and Kenya in Ethiopia and Kenya, it construction didn't get an easy ride.
Anti-dam activist groups had left no stone unturned in their sinister but futile to stop the construction of the Gillegel Gibe III dam project.
It was since its launch that the project became a target of anti-dam groups, whom Prime Minister Meles Zenawi described as:
"these people are concerned that butterflies will be disturbed by such projects and they will not allow the disturbance of butterflies even if this means millions of people have to be subjected to the deadliest killer diseases of all, poverty, in order not to disturb the butterflies."
The first tactic of these anti-dam groups were funding organizations.
They launched political campaigns against international funding institutions to drag the lending process, thereby prolong Ethiopia's road to escape poverty.
To their dismay, the Ethiopian government withdrew its funding requests and decided to construct the dam by its own money. At the time, both the anti-dam groups and others thought that the project will collapse.
However, the booming Ethiopian economy, coupled with prudent fiscal policy and cost-effective construction methods, enabled the advancement of the project.
It was only after the project progressed as per the schedule that a Chinese bank came in to lend some 495 million dollars for the purchase and installation of electrical and mechanical equipments of the project.
Eventually, World Bank came on-board last year to finance the construction of transmission lines to Kenya.
The anti-dam groups launched campaigns against the Chinese and World Bank finances, but it was already clear that Ethiopia can finish and use the Gibe III dam without those funds.
Therefore, the anti-dam groups went to all sorts of tricks to create international pressure and stop the project. They prepared flawed “studies”, launched petitions and demonstrations. They even succeeded to mislead one UNESCO committee, though that was a short-lived one.
All these attempts failed one by one and the project is 75% complete now and expected to start generating power early next year, when its first turbine becomes operational.
This, apparently, created desperation among the anti-dam groups. Since they failed to twist Ethiopia's hands, they started spinning issues to fit their fantasy.
As the completion date of the project approaches, these anti-dam international bullies found it easier to claim victory rather than admit defeat by Ethiopia.
For example, a recent story on VOA claimed that:
"An environmental controversy surrounding the construction of Gilgel Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia’s Highlands appears to be close to resolution.....
An agreement between the two water ministries may be signed in November. The draft agreement proposes joint management of all natural resources in Lake Turkana and its river basin which extends upstream into Ethiopia."
What "controversy"? What "resolution"? The two governments never disputed on the matter.
In fact, they signed a power purchase agreement in 2011 and agreed on the terms of constructing a regional power inter- connector to link their grids and implement the regional trade in electricity.
The joint consultations on the Turkana lake and its surroundings was started more than one and half year ago.
It was in August 2012 that the former Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, told the parliament that:
"We have engaged Ethiopia constructively. Ethiopia will sell electricity to us and we are financing [the power-transmission line] because it will lower the cost of energy......
The two governments formed a joint council to deal with matters arising as a result of the use of the Omo River waters".
Indeed, this is not the sole area of cooperation between the two sister countries whom the anti-dam groups wish to see quarelling. As the Foreign Ministry recently summarised it:
"Current cooperation that exists between the two countries range from political to economic and cultural matters. The biannual Joint Ministerial and the annual Joint Border Commission meetings, held alternatively in each country, provide opportunities to exchange views on issues of common concern.
Both countries have embarked upon a number of joint development programs in road construction, commerce and trade and other areas. Ethiopia has been exploring the possibility of using Mombasa as a port, and is taking a keen interest in the discussions about the creation of a new port at Lamu and the possibilities of rail links with other areas."
Unfortunately, the antidam groups and affilated experts continue to make exaggerated and alarmist statements.
Let's take three recent alarmist remarks:
"the Gilgel Gibe III was based on flawed studies and 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.”
"Ethiopia’s Gilgel Gibe 111 dam will drain upstream waters [and] will critically damage Lake Turkana, 675 kilometers downstream.....and water levels in the lake could drop by as much as 10 meters once the dam is operational."
"Some estimates say that beyond the 20,000 who depend directly on the lake’s waters, more than 200,000 Kenyans and Ethiopians would be impacted by a drop in lake waters."
These apocalyptic claims have been discredited by several research findings time and again.
The environmental and social impact assessment undertaken on the site of the dam indicates there is no significant effect both in down and up stream areas. However, the reservoir area of Gibe III dam is neither contiguous with nor in close proximity with any of these nationally protected areas.
As the result of the less favourable rainfall, Tsetse fly infestation and the consequent occurrence of cattle disease, trypanosomiasis, and the steepness of the slope on either side of the valley, there is very little farming activity around the Omo valley bottom lands. This makes is almost with no significant effect on the farmers and other settlers in the area as the valley is an ideal place for the dam to be situated.
The importance of the Gibe III reservoir area and the immediate surrounding has been investigated in terms of religious and cultural site relics and archaeological importance. Based on this investigation the historical sites known as King Ejajo (in Wolayta Zone) and King Halala (in Dawro Zone) walls were found on both sides of the Omo River. According to the research. The dam's reservoir will not totally have any effect on King Halala Wall while only 2 per cent of King Ijajo Wall may be covered by it.
Although the lower valley of the Omo River (downstream of the Gibe III dam) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (because of geological and archaeological importance), the proposed dam and the reservoir areas are not in close proximity to this UNESCO designated heritage site. No visible archaeological remains, which have scientific, cultural, public, economic, ethnic and historic significances, have been observed in the area and dam sites. The sites have no archaeological importance.
The United Nations Environment Programme report of February 2012 on the Gibe III Dam and its Potential Impact on Lake Turkana Water Levels noted that without any significant climate change the Omo River would continue to provide some 80% of the inflow into Lake Turkana, and that depending upon rainfall scenarios the median effect would produce a 2 meter fall in the lake levels over a seven month period while the reservoir was filling.
Should the rainfall levels remain the same, there would be no change. Alternatively, with below average rainfall, there would be a fall in the lake level of up to 4.3 meters during a period of eight to sixteen months while the reservoir was filling.
The report also noted that the lake levels actually fluctuate three to four meters seasonally in any one year at the moment in any case. The most comprehensive study of the impact of the dam, done in 2010, calculated that the hydrological impact would be a fall of up to 2 meters, no more.
The anti-dam groups know very well that everyone is tired of their usual claims and Ethiopia is not going to halt its effort to make use of its natural resources.
After all, Ethiopia's is getting stronger by the day, therefore more and more able to pursue mega projects regardless of foreign finance. But Ethiopia is not a rich country yet. It needs economic assistance for her ambitious plans of socio-economic transformation.
That is why when the completion of the hydro-power plant approaches, they shifted their target to the Kuraz Project. The grand project that consists six sugar plantations which will be watered from the Omo River.
One anti-dam groups recently claimed that: "in Ethiopia many villagers been removed to provide up to 300,000 hectares in South Oromo for proposed sugar and cotton plantations."
Another group declared: “Grabbing land and water for sugar plantations will spell ecological collapse and hunger for the 500,000 indigenous people”".
These allegations are simply false and there is no evidence for the alarmist claims over water levels or Lake Turkana.
Members of the Donor Advisory Group in Ethiopia have been watching the resettlement projects and developments in the Omo Valley closely. In their recent visit to the Omo Valley, in August last year, representatives of eight countries, including six ambassadors, spent several days in the area meeting senior regional officials, local authorities, and local communities.
They were looking specifically at the ongoing commercial agricultural developments, their implementation and consequences for local communities, as well as discussing the consequences of the Gilgel Gibe III dam and the wider environmental, social, cultural, and economic effects on the lives of local traditional communities.
The donors' report provided no support for the wild claims of anti-dam groups and had no criticisms of the principles of developing commercial agriculture or the resettlement activities being carried out. It did, however, underline a number of points it felt were important including continued and improved discussion and communication prior to development activities and the importance of ensuring that adequate provision and development of services were in place prior to any resettlement.
The anti-dam groups tactic is nothing but a blackmail. They hope to frustrate the Ethiopian government by picking one issue after another.
What they didn't know is that though Ethiopia is still poor country, it has built the developmental mindset and economic capacity to carry out mega projects regardless the blessing of outsiders.
No matter what they say to blacken Ethiopia's image; the fact remains that Ethiopia will finish the Gibe II dam, will transform the lives of its pastoralists, progress with its voluntary villagization program and become a main sugar exporter country by 2015 - as per the Growth and Transformation Plan which is the brain child of the Great Leader.
As a conclusion, I shall quote what Meles Zenawi said two years ago with regard to the anti-dam groups. Meles said:
“Their holier than though attitude is all the more ironic because these groups who have done virtually nothing to stop their countries from building all the dams they can build while at the same time single handedly subjecting our planet to the threat of catastrophe because of global warming are trying to stop projects in poor countries such as Ethiopia that are infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present.
I am not a believer in conspiracy theories but if I were I would conclude that these people want Africa to remain as it currently is with all its misery and poverty so that they can come and visit nature in its pristine state in the winter every so often.
Beyond conspiracy theories, I believe the position taken by such groups is not only irrational but also bordering on the criminal.”