ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopian officials say they will not heed the
U.N.’s recommendation to halt construction on a dam that the world
body says endangers a world heritage site.
Project manager Azeb Asnake said Thursday that government impact
studies found Gilgel Gibe III dam does not endanger Lake Turkana, the
world’s largest desert lake.
She says the dam will have a positive effect on the lake and will
regulate the water flow of the Omo River, preventing floods and
raising the water level during dry seasons.
Ethiopian officials say the dam costs about $1.7 billion and is partly
financed by China’s development bank.
Ethiopia Continues Dam Construction Over UN Objections
UNESCO urges Ethiopia, financiers to halt construction of Gibe III
until social, environmental impact is assessed
The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) has rejected calls by
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, urging Ethiopia to immediately halt
all construction on the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric Dam that is
being constructed at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars. The dam is
expected to generate 1,870 mw of electricity.
“The positive impact on the ground, which is revealed by the social
and environmental impact studies, should be judged against different
externalities that can result from the construction of the dam,”
Meheret Debebe, CEO of EEPCo, told Fortune.
The Heritage Committee, in its 35th session held in Paris, from June
19 to 29, 2011, expressed its concern about the construction of the
Gibe III Dam, and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana.
It warned that the Gibe III Dam is likely to significantly alter Lake
Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic
species and associated biological systems, and may pose an imminent
In explaining how the issue might not be related to Kenya, Meheret
responded that Ethiopia has extensive institutional, professional and
governmental forums with Kenya to discuss about different issues
concerning the dam project.
Mihret pointed to what he called other entities outside Kenya who are
behind the campaign against the dam, which refuse to give up their
fervour against the construction of the dam, he claimed.
He asserted that Ethiopia will continue to build Gibe III despite
The committee also urged that Ethiopia immediately halt all the
construction on the Gibe, and also called for all financial
institutions supporting the Gibe III dam to put their financial
support on hold until the Committee reviews this issue at its 36th
session in 2012. It has also requested Ethiopia to submit its
environmental impact assessment of two other proposed Gibe IV and Gibe
V dams on Gibe River.
Nonetheless, the Ethiopian government reaffirmed its previous position
that the project has no harm to Lake Turkana, noting that the project
has been thoroughly studied by both domestic and international experts
who showed that it is economically valuable and environmentally
“No matter what is reported, the project will continue, and financing
to the project is certain as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of
China has provided 470 million dollars, and the remaining might be
covered by Ethiopia,” Misikir Negash, public relations officer for
EEPCo, told Fortune.
Currently, 46pc of the project has been completed, of which 40pc of it
was funded by the Ethiopian government, he also stated. He blatantly
dismissed the accusation by the World Heritage Committee as “baseless”
and paralleled it to the previous accusations by different
international non-governmental groups.
Likewise, top officials at the Gilgel Gibe III Project management told
Fortune that environmental and social impact assessments undertaken
show that the dam will contribute positively to downstream quarter by
providing a regulated flow of the Omo River, which is naturally
characterised by fluctuations in flow. The project has also arranged
to discharge a 50 cubic metre minimum standard ecological flow, 10
days of free discharge in September, added to nine other streams which
are already there and can maintain downstream ecology during water
“Once the dam becomes operational, the project is generally positive
and well studied, so we have no expectation that the decision by the
committee would change our position,” claimed a high level manager
under condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had repeatedly responded to similar
accusations by various environmental lobbyists such as Survival
International and many others contending “They don’t want to see a
developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to
serve their tourists as a museum,” the prime minister argued.
“The decision from UNESCO based on the Convention Concerning the
Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is not made by
the entire UN,” stated one legal analyst. “It is just a decision
passed by one of many UN agencies. Even if ratified, the decision made
by the World Heritage Committee clearly states the word “urge” which
is not mandatory,” argued the legal expert.
The world cultural and natural heritage does not have an enforcement
clause to implement the decisions made by the committee, explained the