The dam is planned to deliver several benefits to Ethiopia: (1) power generation; (2) rural electrification - Ethiopia has one of the lowest per capita levels of energy consumption wherein only 14 percent of the population has access to electricity; (3) fishery development in the dam reservoir; (4) Irrigation schemes and agricultural development; and, (5) tourism and employment (EEPC, 2009).
Beyond these benefits, the Government of Ethiopia expects the Gibe projects will contribute substantially to economic growth through regional energy exports – specifically to Kenya, who, in 2006, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the purchase of 500 MW from the dam. An $800 million grid connection between Kenya and Ethiopia, which will be necessary for distribution, is also planned. At time of writing, funders for the grid are still not forthcoming. The power supplied by Ethiopia will also support other projects in the region – specifically the Lamu Port and Lamu-South Sudan- Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), oil developments in the Turkana region, and pumping stations for any Kenyan oil pipelines. Sudan and Djibouti have also reportedly reached agreements with the Ethiopian Government and plans to expand the reach of the project to Somalia, Eritrea and Yemen are rumored to be underway.
Transboundary water and livelihood implications
The political geography of the Horn – and Africa more broadly – does not generally align with natural physical geography. Massive (and critical) rivers are divided amongst handfuls of countries that all have an interest in protecting their access to water resources. While the Nile attracts the most attention, the Omo River is no exception to transboundary water management challenges. The Omo River opens into Lake Turkana, which together constitute the Omo-Turkana Basin between Ethiopia and Kenya. The Omo provides approximately 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.
Some studies have noted that exclusion of impacts on the Turkana Basin in the Lower Omo Basin Master Plan (funded by the African Development Bank/African Development Fund) was bizarre given the transboundary nature of the project (Avery, 2012). Furthermore, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the African Development Bank noted that there has been a complete lack of local consultation and environmental impact assessments, and have urged the Ethiopian Government to further investigate these gaps. Since making these observations, the African Development Bank and the EIB have withdrawn funding for the project, although the EIB claims this has to do with ‘alternate funding’ being available rather than failure to meet pre-implementation study standards (the World Bank had never been a confirmed funder). Despite these problems the project continued ahead; meanwhile, advocacy organizations and academics have continued to stress the importance of these studies in considering the very real human and physical implications (Avery, 2012; Carr, 2012; HRW, 2012).
For the people living in the Lower Omo and Turkana region, the fisheries and water resources are of critical importance to livelihoods. International Rivers claims that if the dam in completed, upwards of 500,000 indigenous people will be affected due to reduced river flows – leading to increased hunger and localized conflict and “one of Africa’s worst development disasters” (International Rivers, 2011: 1), particularly in regions like Turkana, where “food aid is an institutionalized drought coping mechanism” (Avery, 2012: 1). Advocacy groups and some academics are also claiming that the Ethiopian government, in addition to ignoring the needs of Kenya’s pastoral communities, have been busy evicting their own indigenous peoples from the river beds to make way for irrigation schemes and canal construction (Carr, 2012; HRW, 2014).
It is also important to note that funding by some of the dissenters on this specific project have directed their funding toward international power transmission lines and strengthening Ethiopia’s domestic networks (e.g., the Eastern Electricity Highway Project funded in part by the World Bank).
Even as the Gibe III inches toward completion, Ethiopia is not free of dam-related disputes. After Gibe III, Gibe IV and V will be constructed and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which is already well into the construction phase, has had its own share of controversy regarding local populations and rampant land grabbing. For those interested in the economic future of the Horn,, the prospect of 100 percent of Ethiopia’s population having access to power by 2018 (EEPCO’s stated goal) versus the current 14 percent, as well as prospects for energy export, is reason to weather the controversy.
Avery, Sean (2012). Lake Turkana and the Lower Omo: Hydrological Impacts of Major Dam and Irrigation Developments, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University.
Carr, Claudia J. (2012). Humanitarian Catastrophe and Regional Armed Conflict Brewing in the Transborder Region of Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan: The Proposed Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia. Berkeley: Africa Resources Working Group.
Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPC) (2009). Gibe III Hydroelectric Project: Environmental and Social Management Plan. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation.
Foster, Vivien & Cecilia Briceno-Garmendia (2010). Africa’s Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation. Washington DC: World Bank/Agence Francaise de Développement.
Human Right Watch (2012). What Will Happen If Hunger Comes?. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch (2014). Ethiopia: Land, Water Grabs Devastate Communities. New York: Human Rights Watch Online.
International Rivers (2011). Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam: Sowing Hunger and Conflict. Berkeley: International Rivers.
The Star. “Kenya: Gibe III Benefits all in the Region”. 3 May 2013. http://allafrica.com/stories/201305061089.html