Since Gibe III’ s planning began in 2006, it became clear that the project had numerous environmental implications and unclear financials. The World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the African Development Bank have decreased financial support for the project over the years, which has forced the Ethiopian government to directly finance construction with the support of a Chinese loan of 440 million euros.
According to research by the three organizations, International Rivers, RE:common and Survival, Gibe III alone has changed the lives of at least 400,000 people living along the Omo. The river stretches hundreds of kilometers downstream from the dam to the basin of lake Turkana.
What’ s behind these changes? Transformation of the river’ s flow has stopped up alluvial floodplains, which are essential for traditional agriculture. Blocking nutritional elements brought by Omo’ s current has reduced the fertility of the land. A series of mega agribusiness construction projects are transforming the territory and culture of local ethnic communities. In some cases, the projects are forcing relocation.
«The dam has put an end to the Omo River’ s seasonal flooding, which 100,000 people directly depend on to water their herds, fish and cultivate their fields. Another 100,000 people are indirectly dependent,” explains Francesca Casella of International Survival, the worldwide movement for the rights ofindigenous people. “The Ethiopian government and the construction company did not consult the people in the valley before starting construction on the dam, and they had also announced artificial flooding as compensation. Years later, not enough water has been released to sustain indigenous peoples’ survival. Thousands of people are at risk of dying from hunger.
According to Joint Lenders Fact Finding, the investors’ associations’ verification mission commissioned in 2009 by the builder, “the direct impacts attributed to the project were minimal.” The overall effect on the populations upstream of the dam, continues the text, would be “mild, involving only 58 rural households which were previously consulted.” We contacted Salini Impregilo to find out if the government requested an analysis on project’ s impact on the valley, but did not receive a response to numerous emails.
Water for plantations
The government’ s plans involve more than just electricity. Gibe III’ s construction created a massive reservoir of 14 million cubic meters. What does one do with all this water “tamed” by the dam – especially in a region with predominantly non-irrigated agriculture? The answer seems to be large-scale monocultures, possibly related to biofuel plants. The first to jump on the bandwagon was Sugar Corporation, an Ethiopian national company specialized in producing refined sugar and ethanol. Through the Omo-Kuraz Sugar Project, Gibe III’ s reservoir irrigates 175,000 hectares of commercial plantations to produce exports to Europe and China.
To make room for sugar cane culture, villages and entire communities have been relocated. According to Sugar Corp. documents, five processing plants were created on-site with the support of Chinese companies like Complant and JJIEC. Approximately 1.3 million tons of sugar and 130,810 cubic meters of ethanol per year roll out of the plants through gates that to-date are only connected to main roads by a network of dirt roads. The fuel will be used in cogeneration to power on-site plants of 415 megawatts, feeding 275 megawatts to the national grid through a high-voltage line. The World Bank finances the line, with the goal of linking Gibe III and the future Gibe IV.