23 July 2012 – The World Bank’s approval of a US$684 million loan for a new electricity transmission link between Kenya and Ethiopia which would source power from projects such as Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam project has drawn strong protest from various international NGOs.
Human Rights Watch, Friends of Lake Turkana, International Rivers, Survival International, and the Bank Information Centre say that the World Bank has undermined the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment with its approval of the loan. The World Bank’s board of directors approved the loan without applying the bank’s social and environmental standards to the Gibe III dam under construction in southern Ethiopia which according to these organisations has been linked to serious human rights abuses and environmental concerns.
They say that Gibe III could devastate ecosystems that support 500,000 indigenous peoples in the Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia and around Kenya’s Lake Turkana. In 2011, the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called on the Ethiopian government to immediately halt all construction on the dam, which will impact several sites of universal cultural and ecological value.
"The World Bank is lowering its standards and assuming serious reputational risk by taking on this project," Joshua Klemm, Africa manager of the Bank Information Center, says. "Financing the transmission line sends a signal to Ethiopia that it can ignore massive impacts of damming its rivers, and still get rewarded."
The transmission project marks the first phase of a regional East Africa power integration program which is likely to cost US$1.3 billion at completion, eventually benefiting 212 million people living in five countries with a combined GDP of US$107 billion, the World Bank says. In addition to the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the French Agence Française de Développement (AFD) are also funding the project.
"Currently, only one in three Africans has access to electricity in their communities so boosting power sharing between countries is an essential step toward addressing Africa’s needs," Makhtar Diop, World Bank vice president for the Africa region points out.