Gibe III: Another milestone for building green economy

The Economist on December 21, 2016 stated that the Gibe III dam has the capacity to double the country’s electricity output at the flick of a switch. Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn had on Saturday 17, 2016 inaugurated the 243-metre (800ft) Gibe-III dam built on the Omo River. Gibe III is 1.5 billion Euros hydropower project located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region.

The Economist stated, dubbed as the water tower of Africa, Ethiopia has long sought to harness the power of its rivers that tumble down to deep gorges from its highlands. Gibe III is the latest in a series being built along the Omo River by the country, which is also constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile; the 3rd largest Dam ever built in Africa. Together these projects are intended to turn Ethiopia, which has enormous hydropower potential, into a renewable-energy power house and exporter.

The project had taken about ten years due to various difficulties including financing. However, unparalleled effort of the government and the people of Ethiopia have enabled to finalize the project. Gibe III is expected to raise power generation capacity of the country and enhance regional integration through power infrastructures. Apart from becoming source of renewable power, the project will help the country earn more foreign currency. Gibe III will also play positive role to further strengthen development endeavors of the country.

Ethiopia is currently focusing on developing its hydroelectric potential and Gibe III scheme is part of that effort. The project will be instrumental in coping up with the nation’s increasing power demand, which increases 25 per cent annually. Accordingly, it enables to generate huge electricity to meet this insatiable demand; parallel to increasing export of electricity. Electricity production capacity is growing with time. For instance, Gibe I, with an installed capacity of 184 MW, was finalized in 2004; Gibe II with proven capacity of 420 MW was inaugurated in 2010 and lately Gibe III with 1870 MW. In addition, the GERD being built on the Blue Nile River will become the 11th largest dam in the world with an installed capacity of 6,000 MW.

According to the Economist however, “large dams tend to be controversial, wherever they are built.’’ The magazine argues that Gibe III will have significant consequences on hundreds of thousands of people that live downstream, whose livelihoods are dependent on the annual flood. For instance, it said, there was no flood in 2015 and the discharge in 2016 was too low to sustain crops. Added to this is the claim that the government did not consult the affected communities. “They have just been totally ignored.’’

Besides, “environmentalists and non-governmental organizations like Rivers International” have been viciously attacking all of Ethiopia’s hydro projects. It seems they are hell bent on hindering the development endeavour of Ethiopia.

Nevertheless, Ethiopia has been gallantly shrugging off all scathing remarks of nit-picker international organizations. The nation has turned deaf ears to their blather opting to continue its development endeavour and alleviating poverty. Ethiopia has strengthened its stance on the Gibe III dam and managed to finalize it (despite chiding and scathing remark of anti-development and self-professed organizations).

As witness of defying challenges, former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi had once stated that Ethiopia is committed to finalize Gibe-III dam at any cost. And he discredited the concern and critics of international organizations about the disadvantage of Gibe-III to downstream countries, fauna and flora of the river valley as baseless. Meles replied that Ethiopia has carried out ample study to undertake environment-friendly projects as it does not want to incur damage environmental damage. In view of tenable evidence on the ground, the nation does not want to become receiver of wheat all the time; it has far better option to exploit renewable water resources, accelerate its development and extricate citizens out of the mire of grinding poverty.

To scientifically disprove the allegations of “environmentalists”, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) has been prepared in compliance with Ethiopian ESIA  procedures and in accordance with the international standards and guidelines of the African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and the World Bank.

The Study aimed at strategically prioritizing national interest: gaining public acceptance, sustaining rivers and livelihoods, enhancing the function of existing dams and sustaining their longevity, sustaining and recognizing entitlements, ensuring compliance and mutually sharing benefits of rivers for peace, development and security, among others.

The ESIA was impeccably conducted and compiled by capable companies of Italy and consulting engineers of Ethiopia. They have carefully discharged their responsibility when compiling the document of Gibe-III project. Ethiopian Electric and Power Corporation (EEPCO’s) Environmental Monitoring Unit (EMU) has also prepared the ESIA project and the resettlement action plan (RAP) to help facilitate construction of the project.

The impacts assessment survey of Gibe III has included physical, biological and socio-economical aspects in their very nature; intended to give answer to the concerns of organizations that question the impact of the project associated with downstream impacts of the dam, if any, and regulation of the flow of the river during dry and wet seasons. Far-sightedly, the study has included state of the art survey that clearly depicts the merits and demerits of the project to environmental viability.

It has clearly verified merits of the dam outweighing minor impacts in the hydrological realm of Omo River and effects of the project on human and animal life, private assets and public infrastructures are insignificant. On the contrary, ESIA has further revealed that huge evaporation has been causing tremendous loss of water in the Gibe valley and the consequence of excessive and uncontrolled flooding has exacerbated the current recession of Lake Turkana.

The socio-economic environment has been thoroughly reviewed by analyzing the existing information and data, as well as by utilizing specific instruments such as field surveys and questionnaires in order to get sufficient and clear picture of prevailing conditions of local populations and their settlement patterns, ethnic composition, religious and gender issues, sources of conflicts, income and household conditions in relation to traditional agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing practices, and issues of food security.

Moreover, Ethiopia has ratified several international conventions and protocols used to be taken as a reference to undertake environment-friendly construction and all of these are relevant to the Gibe III Project. According to EEPCO, the ESIA study for Gibe III has been carried out within the framework of local, national and international environmental regulations. The legislative framework applicable to the project was strictly reviewed and monitored by experts and renowned environmentalists, beside partners that employ international parameters.

The benefits of Gibe-III project include a regulation of the hydrological balance and water discharge of the Omo River system related to Lake Turkana. Studies have indicated that unregulated floods of uncertain magnitude had previously affected many areas. The project has enabled to diminish impact of unregulated floods on riverside fauna, flora, infrastructures and human activities, in particular sedentary agriculture and settlement.

Hence, one of the project’s well identified benefits to conserve water resources amount to the possibility of controlling flooding, guaranteeing regularity of yields in downstream agricultural activities and curbing recession of agriculture (in fact, while large unregulated floods incur severe damages to the downstream communities).

The project has included far and wide public consultation contrary to mere allegation and brazen cry of some organizations. Indigenous communities were also properly consulted and their consent was documented before decisions were passed to undertake the construction. The public consultation process has been conducted to inform people; to identify potential impacts on their livelihoods (either negative or positive); implement remedial measures; enhance public awareness and understanding of the project and ensure its acceptance. Discussion and interviews conducted with the local communities and their leaders indicate that their attitude towards the project is positive. They firmly believe that the project will contribute to accomplish missions of local, regional and national development.

Ethiopia has realized the project through formidable endeavour. It is one of the mega projects that testified the green development goal of the country. It is the pioneer of green economy development and the nation will continue undertaking same mega projects. The inauguration of the Gibe III hydro power project is an indication of dazzling success in the sector of electrification and materialization of green development.

GIBE III Project is witnessing that realization of massive electrification programme and poverty alleviation endeavor through implementation of green development strategy has been carried out as per the farsighted vision of GTP-II (generation of tremendous electricity as much as 1269GWh; supplying it to domestic consumption; exporting the surplus to neighbouring countries and becoming exemplary in the promotion of regional integration).

The country is achieving economic miracles year after year. Accordingly, until the finalization of the GERD, GIBE III Project has become paragon of national green development endeavour. It has made Ethiopia champion of green development, stalwart ally of regional integration and ardent supporter of alleviation of the impacts of climate change. The nation is boldly stating its stance that similar development endeavours will continue unceasingly until the level where the untapped national resources are exploited exhaustively and hence poverty alleviated.

By Fekadu Wubete

Source: The Ethiopian Herald