They don’t give a dam about development

Tigrai Online
Sept 17 2010

Recently, a group of international NGOs has been leading a campaign to stop the building of the Gibe III hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia. They say the dam will disrupt the local ecosystem and the traditional lifestyles of ‘indigenous people’. So why are these groups, normally so vocal about geographical displacement, not up in arms about the tragedy that has unfolded in Ethiopia over the past few weeks? At least 19 people have died and 25,000 have been displaced because of floods.

The UN expects 300,000 to be affected by the floods in Ethiopia this month, and with the ensuing health risks, including malaria and Acute Watery Diarrhoea, as well as the severe damage caused to crops, livelihood assets and infrastructure, the impact of the heavy rains has certainly been devastating. One reason why this hasn’t been big news might be because Ethiopia experiences severe disruptions every year during the rainy season. Over 183,000 people were affected by floods in 2007, and the year before 600 people were killed, with a further 300,000 affected.

So why are NGOs like Survival International and International Rivers, which are spearheading the protest against Gibe III, not focusing their efforts on lobbying for investment in smart, ambitious and truly sustainable solutions to prevent the disastrous, and avoidable, effects of floods which every year displace, kill and plunge thousands into poverty? Why are they opposing large-scale development projects – like dams – that could contain the impact of both droughts and torrential downpours?

The answer is because their interest in preserving the lifestyles of ‘indigenous peoples’ really means that they do not want Ethiopia and other poor nations to modernise and have what we in the West have: industrialisation.