31 March 2010 – The African Development Bank (AFDB) has backed the Gilgel Gibe III project in southern Ethiopia and says it cannot be stopped, despite a growing worldwide protests against the construction of this massive hydroelectric power project.
Last week, a group of international campaigners have launched a new movement, seeking a stop to the country’s immense dam project on Omo river, arguing that its construction will lead to devastation on the livelihoods of about half a million people living in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The African Development Bank however argued that the dam would instead improve the lives of people living downstream directly and indirectly and the project should go ahead with or without international assistance.
The Omo River is the primary source of Kenya’s famous Lake Turkana and Friends of the Lake and a number of concerned groups strongly argue that construction of the giant dam would reduce the flow of water to lake Turkana endangering the lives of some 300,000 people who directly depend on it for their survival; claims the African development bank rejected.
"It allows the flow of water to be controlled so as to prevent flooding and will actually lead to a greater flow of water into Lake Turkana," said a representative from the AfDB.
Azeb Asnake, project manager for Gibe III on her part said that the European Investment Bank (EIB) and AfDB were backing the project.
"When we meet with the EIB and the AfDB they are very supportive. I know that they are going to support this project, they are on board," said Azeb.
"Kenya is the major beneficiary of this project. We are going to supply them with power. They are working on the agreement to provide power right now."
She accused NGOs of ‘going against the spirit of Copenhagen’ by opposing the project and said they were ‘trying to deprive Africans of the right to electrification.’
Italian company Salini Costruttori, has been contracted to build the dam. The same company that built the smaller Gibe II dam, now shut down temporarily for repair after part of the 27 Kilometers long water passage tunnel of the dam collapsed few days after inauguration in January.
Salini Costruttori in a statement it released has dismissed the protests against the project calling it as irresponsible campaigns targeted against development in Africa.
"The campaign against the construction of the Gibe plant in Ethiopia is merely another initiative without a technical and scientific basis", said a statement published by Salini.
"We are dealing with an irresponsible campaign, based on critical statements founded on blatant factual errors and mainly due to elementary arithmetic and technical mistakes. These statements have already been assessed and denied by authoritative international organizations, such as EIB and the African Development Bank (ADB)."
One case is that of the change in water level in Lake Turkana caused by the project, which the critical organizations are claiming has fallen by 12 metres, with disastrous effects. In truth, the claimed fall in water level is non-existent and is based on a blatant overestimate (15 times!) in the calculation of the volume taken over by the dam.
Salini has also stated that the Gibe project is fruit of the work of hundreds of engineers of worldwide renown in the sector and that thousands of technicians and workers of different nationalities are involved in the project, which has been submitted for approval by authoritative Ethiopian and international organizations.
The company further said that, those who are opposing the Gibe project in various ways and under various guises are merely fuelling a needless and damaging campaign, based on ideological prejudice – in the hope of gaining fame and notoriety – while nullifying the appreciation of the work expressed in international circles.
Salini has reiterated its policy of full disclosure to the public of all information on its work, and the use on its own blog and website of open areas for discussion and criticism, also announcing that it will continue to defend its image from further unmotivated and defamatory attacks, which are causing serious damage not only to the Company and the dignity of its technicians and workers, but also, especially, to the development of the Horn of Africa.
According to experts, the Gibe projects will guarantee the production of the same amount of renewable and clean energy as that of two average size nuclear plants, and this will enable the sustainable development of the areas.
The Africa Development Bank along with the European Investment Bank, the World Bank and the Italian government was one among these potential international funders, the international campaigners urged last week not to support the project.
The construction of Gibe III Dam was launched in 2006 with an estimated cost of 1.4 Billion Euros. Up on completion in 2012, the dam will generate 1,800 MW of electricity, making it Africa’s second largest power dam.