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Khadija Sharife

Khadija Sharife

Posted: May 16, 2010 08:53 AM

East Africa's looming 'eco-geno-cide' - set to impact one million people, is about to become a reality in Ethiopia, extending to Sudan and Kenya, if Gilgel Gibe III mega-dam - the second largest in Africa - continues along its destructive path.

From the very start, Ethiopia's Gibe III mega-dam (height of 240m, a 151 km reservoir, and a storage capacity of 11.75 billion m3), was marked by the sort of clumsy corruption and irregularities that could only be realised in the worst B Grade movies - think rotten actors, and terrible scripts, catering to unbelievable plots.

Lets start with the terrible script: In 2004, several weeks after the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) granted a no-bid contract to Italian firm Salini Costruttori for the construction of Gibe II, Italy cancelled €367 million in bilateral debt, followed by a loan from the Italian Development Corporation (IDC). Italy's Ministry of Finance was still under investigation for €220 million in loans provided by the IDC for Gibe II when construction of Gibe III began in July 2006.

This was before the Environmental Protection Authority received the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) -- a report that would be completed only in 2009. Thus far, three monster-babies in the Gibe posse were granted no-bid contracts to Salini, and as of late 2009, the Italian government was still considering financing Gibe III to the tune of €250m. Gibe III's contract, currenty pegged at $2.1 billion - an increase of 11% from original estimates, violated Ethiopia's procurement policies for public works as well as that of the World Bank and African Development Bank. In 2008, when Gibe was granted the 'license to kill', the criminal case against the IDC was closed with no conclusive results.

Gibe III estimated to generate 1 870 MW, with about 50% (900 MW) proposed for export to Djibouti, Sudan and Kenya, is a key component of Ethiopia's 25-year national energy master plan, with Gibe III pegged to generate €300 million annually in profits from exported energy. Investment in cost-intensive transmission lines required to 'export' energy to Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti have yet to be secured. The costs for Kenya alone is $800 million, as per the terms of the 2006 Memorandum of Agreement signed between Kenya and Ethiopia for the purchase of 500 MW. But given the instance of drought in Ethiopia - plaguing the country for six months at a stretch from 2003, costing the country some $200 million at a stretch, the project is characterised by energy insecurity. Meanwhile, within Ethiopia, less than 11% of Ethiopians have access to electricity.

"The plan excludes from its investment requirements those costs related to "distribution, rural electrification and network reinforcement resulting from demand growth," said a report by NGO International Rivers (2008).In 2008, eight hydropower dams accounted for 85-89% of Ethiopia's electricity, with five more dams: including Gibe III, currently under construction, estimated to generate a combined capacity of 3 125 MW. EEPCo currently generates about 1000 MW from six dam projects, with hydropower contributing 89% to Ethiopia's electricity production.

China - via the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has stepped in to provide $500 million loan to finance the requirements of Dongfang Electric Machinery Corp, supplying machinary for the project. Goldman Sachs, American Express and Germany's Commerz Bank have cumulatively invested $3.7 billion in ICBC; Sachs holds the largest share at 5.75% at $2.6 billion, injected just prior to ICBC going public on the Shangai and Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

In recent years, China's Sinyhydro has captured 50% of the world's hydropower market, chiefly through the barter system ie: 'resources-for infrastructure', receiving just 4% of investment in African prior to Beijing's entrance. In this way, China's funds are returned to sender through tenders allocated to 'home' countries, while exploiting the resources of host countries. And as infrastructure is almost selectively geared to facilitate easier exploitation of resources - as a substitute for resource revenues remitted to host governments, China essentially liquidates African resources at a huge bargain. Its worth noting also that going on 3000 of dams constructed by Chinese companies witin China have collapsed due to substandard materials, hasty construction, grossly unsuitable geographic locations amongst other fatal flaws - leaving aside socio-ecological impact on ecosystems, displaced - resettled peoples, host communities and downstream populations.

China itself does not subscribe to international environmental frameworks - fair enough if the government, corporations and policy banks, promoted an equitable socio-ecological framework lending to political and civil 'immaterial' rights as well as that of economic, social and cultural rigts. But China subscribes only to the environmental framework of host countries. Ethiopia, experiencing gross deforestation under the rule of ifetime dictator Meles Zenawi, is unlikely to give a damn about the dam's impacts so long as it brings in the cash that Ethiopia's rent-seeking state - 90% dependent on strategic aid (foreign aid) seeks to attract.

But though China remains the primary driver behind the construction of mega-dams in Africa - a move since backed by the World Bank under Robert Zoellick's leadership, there are other, more 'respectable' actors involved.

According to Salini, criticisms leveled against the project "have already been assessed and denied authoritative international organizations, such as EIB and the African Development Bank (ADB)
The European Investment Bank, having partially financed Gibe I and II, as well as the African Development Bank, considered investment at €250 million, with the considering an undisclosed amount.

The efforts of civil society movements particularly the excellent IR network as well as Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) and others, resulted in the IEB financing the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, which has earmarked € 1.2 million for two extensive studies investigating the dam's impact on Lake Turkana as well as Ethiopia's Omo River.

Why does this matter?

Gibe's immediate wake will affect three regions (including the flammable Ilemi Triangle, located at the juncture whether Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan cross geographies) characterised by conflict rooted in food and water insecurity: Southwestern Ethiopia, Southeastern Sudan and Northwestern Kenya, causing 60% reduction in river flow. Impacted populations include not only the displaced - the EIA deliberately underestimated the numnber of peope to be displaced in order to fasttrack the project, but also those located downstream, usually marginalised to the periphery of 'cost benefit analysis'.

Impacted peoples include: 100 000 peoples located in Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley, engaged in flood-recession agriculture as well as further 100 000 peoples dependent on grazing livestock or trading with farmers dependent on flood-recession agriculture; 500 000 rural peoples inhabiting Ethiopia's South Omo zone. and 300 000 peoples sustained by Kenya's Lake Turkana fisheries. Increased salinity would additionally impact the quality of potable water for humans and livestock.

Over 200 000 agropastoralists and pastoralists directly dependent on flood-recession agriculture in the lower Omo basin will immediately face severe impoverishment, lending to conflict, famine, disease, as well as the artificial creation of amost a quarter million 'environmental' refugees. This compound the already strained heavily-armed status of marginalised and disenfranchised ethnic groups in regions like Southern Sudan, set to be devastated by the dam.

Dam(n)ing the Omo River will reduce drastically reduce inflow to Turkana as the former supplies 90% of input. with an estimated 10-12 meter drop. Scientists state that 5 meter drop would result in the elimnination of flooding in the Omo Delta, located mostly within Kenya. Filling Gibe III's massive reservoir will further reduce 50% of the flow to Turkana, while fractures due to cracks in underlying rock formatations, revealed IR, would siphon 50-75% of dammed reservoir water.

The Omo River, flowing 500km south from the dam's proposed site, feeds the Omo National Park, an area of critical biodiversity, populated by 15 different ethnic groups, all sustained by the river.
According to the Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG), comprised of US, European and African academics and other scholars specialising in large hydro-dam and river basin development initiatives, "The quantitative [and qualitative] data included in virtually all major sections of the report were clearly selected for their consistence with the predetermined objective of validating the completion of the Gibe 3 hydro-dam."

The proposed rain-fed cultivation as well as planned flood simulation establised in the EIA deliberately mischaracterises the reality of the region's climate (former) as well as the history of mega-dams in Africa, noted for ineffective and corrupt management and maintenance (the pattern already evidenced in the Gibe posse). As Professor Thayer Scudder, one of twelve commissioners at the World Dam Commission, and one of the World Bank's former principal resettlement officers informed me, "planned flooding is rarely, if ever, successfully implemented in Africa.' This summary excludes the impact of seismic activity due to the immense weight of the reservoir catalysing the risk of seismic activity - a reality deliberately discounted from the EIA.

One of semi-arid Africa's largest rivers, Omo (and Lake Turkana) sustains a massive population precisely because - despite Gibe I and II, it remains a resource held in common that is managed by farmers, herders and traders, utilising centuries of region-specific knowledge and practices.
On discussing the issue of utilisation of the 'commons', often packaged as critically exploited by the 'self-evident truth' of the 'tragedy of the commons' (justifying top-down development, whether via a socialist or capitalist state, as well as the usual economic prescriptions of privatisation against poly-centric regulation), I was informed by Nobel laureate Prof Elinor Ostrom that, "The tragedy of the commons myth has been challenged by our extensive research."

"The myth that I have tackled is that the users of a common-pool resources would always be helplessly trapped in overuse," said Ostrom.

The means of stable organization of common-pool resources, as outlined by Ostrom's extensive research over many decades long field work in Europe and Africa, is primarily composed of eight design principles: clearly defined boundaries; collective-choice arrangements; congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions; monitoring; graduated sanctions; conflict resolution mechanisms; minimal recognition of rights to organize; and finally, where common-pool resources 'are part of larger socio-ecological systems', nested enterprises.

The socio-ecological systems (SES) articulated by Ostrom are composed of multiple complex subsystems including resource users (U) such as fishermen and farmers; resource units (RU) such as salmon, resource systems (RS) such as fisheries or fertile land, and governance systems (GS) authorising rules governing resources. These subsystems interact at micro and macro levels to produce cooperative self-organized processes of governance, upending, in many cases, the need for centralised development, privatisation or further co-option into the system of individualised ownership, undermining the lifestyles of pastoralists and agropastoralists.

"One of the most major problems we face in understanding the many efforts by people all over the world to sustain resources of importance to them is the division by discipline, resource, and region. While there are extensive articles on in-shore fisheries in Africa, many people who study pastoral people in Africa do not know about any research on fisheries.

"Markets and states are hardly the full set of relevant institutions for people in contemporary society. GDP is an important indicator, but it is not the only measure of economic activity that we should be thinking about. GDP gives us no understanding of the successful efforts to sustain resources. We need to be thinking about how small cities can organize, how local communities can organize, and how regions such as the areas along the Nile crossing country lines need to find ways of organizing," said Ostrom.

But the gordion knot informing the Gibe initiative has little to do with community organization given that the community itself presents the greatest threat to the project - designed to export-orient Ethiopia's ecosystems in order to cash in 'resource revenue'.

In this sense, the dam - against the backdrop of Ethiopia's national energy 'master plan' has been packaged as just another lucrative commodity negotiated via a 'secretive development agreement' - as evidenced in the fabrication and obfuscation informing the 'public consultation process' as well as the new law designed to restrict and limit the activities of civil society).

Moreover, the financial threat inherent in the 'master plan' jeopardises Ethiopia's political economy further as HIPC debt cancelation stipuates that loans must be directly linked to poverty reduction. Way back in 2007, the IMF reported that Ethiopia was once again at risk for unsustainable debt. An estimated 90% of the $7 billion in electricity investment will be derived from loans - a considerable portion earmarked for export.

Ironically, in a 2006 report, EEPco itself outlined wind as a sustainable consistent source of energy for nine months of the year, as opposed to water tables, peaking after June. EEPco revealed that hydro-dependency presented a tremendous obstacle to energy generation consistency in light of drought (such as occured in 2008, from May to September during peak water tables), resulting in decreasing reservoir levels, recommending diversification.

By marginalising the cheap job-intensive sustainable source of wind energy, Ethiopia's rentier government has collaterialised the country's future, setting in motion an 'eco-geno-cide' that will initiate brutal famine and Africa's worst water-war yet.

*Scudder's study of 50 dams -- including 13 African dams -- revealed that:

79% of displaced communities depend on agricultural production as a primary or vital secondary economic activity for external markets
Living standards improved in only 7% of cases
The resettlement process was completed in just 18% of cases
A positive outcome was achieved in one case. Political will on the part of the government was inadequate in 54% of cases
Scudder reveals that one official stated the displaced should be sterilised
Lack of opportunity characterised 88% of cases
Landlessness or lack of arable land affected 86% of cases
Joblessness affected 80% of people
Lack of food security impacted heavily on 79% of people
89% of planners were adversely unaware of the importance of common property, such as fertile land, and access to surface water
92% were negatively effected by economic, social, environmental and other factors of resettlement
43% were unable to compete with immigrants and 32% with host communities
100% were marginalised