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Dam Divides Ethiopia From Its Neighbors

Via Future Directions International, a report on how the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River has already begun providing much needed hydroelectricity to Ethiopia, but caused increased tensions among local tribes and neighbouring countries:


The initial support of the Kenyan Government quickly changed when the environmental and social impacts of the dam project became apparent. The controversy surrounding the Gibe III dam has previously been reported by FDI. In line with Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan, the damming of the Omo River is essential in lifting a significant part of its population out of poverty. The five year plan envisages ten per cent annual growth in GDP from 2010 to 2015 by encouraging large-scale foreign investment and greater energy production. The dam itself rises 242 metres, can hold back 14.7 billion cubic metres of water and has the potential to produce 1,870 megawatts of hydroelectricity. It began to generate electricity in October and when all generators become operational by 2016, it will become the third-largest hydroelectric plant in Africa. On the other hand, the government is currently filling the Gibe III reservoir, which is having a major negative impact on various local indigenous populations that have used the Omo Valley and Lake Turkana for centuries.


The benefits of the dam are not to be understated. Of the 1,870 megawatts of power that is expected to be produced, half will be supplied to Ethiopia with the rest distributed among Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti. Ethiopia’s low generation capacity coupled with prolonged periods of drought has caused an estimated $200 USD million ($277 AUD million) loss in economic output. Ethiopia desperately needs a secure and sustainable source of energy to meet the demands of its growing population. In addition to flood control and the potential for irrigation, the Gibe III project better ensures Ethiopia’s economic security.

From its inception, the project has been enshrouded in controversy. Originally intended to be operational by June 2013, the backlash from local and international environmental groups delayed the project. Accusations over the approval process resulted in the African Development Bank delaying funding for the full construction cost until an independent environmental impact study had been conducted. The environmental and social impact assessments were not made available to the public until two years after construction had begun. Locals are questioning the transparency of the project with allegations that the reports only include data that supports the construction of the dam. Authorities stressed that the amount of water flowing into nearby Lake Turkana would remain the same but this is inconsistent with the alternative environmental impact statement produced by the Africa Resources Working Group. This alternative report was conducted in response to widespread allegations of corruption and inaccuracy in the writing of the official impact assessment. This report found huge environmental implications for nearby Lake Turkana, which receives 90 per cent of its water from the Omo River. The report suggested that Lake Turkana would shrink dramatically upon completion of the dam.

Lake Turkana is of particular importance as it shares its border with both Ethiopia and Kenya. It is estimated that over 200,000 people utilise this area for flood recession agriculture. This area is home to several indigenous groups that are already feeling the impacts of climate change. One paper has suggested the result of the dam will be a cascade of hydrological, ecological and socio-economic impacts that will generate a region-wide crisis for indigenous livelihoods and biodiversity and thoroughly destabilise the Ethiopia-Kenyan borderlands around Lake Turkana.

The potential for a transboundary water sharing agreement is too little too late. With the effects already been felt throughout the region, Kenya must begin to play a more active role in contributing to a solution. As for Ethiopia, progress must sadly come at a price. Ethiopia must begin to slowly repair the reputation of the Gibe III by addressing the environmental and social impacts that it suggested did not exist.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 at 8:15 am and is filed under Ethiopia, Kenya.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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