Independent Review of Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam Moves Forward

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African Development Bank’s Inspection Panel Accepts Complaint

The African Development Bank’s independent review mechanism, the CRMU1, has opened the door to a critical investigation into the EUR 1.55 billion Gibe 3 Dam. The unit has accepted a request for project investigation submitted by five international organizations. Management from the African Development Bank has until August 20 to respond to the CRMU, at which time the CRMU is expected to formally commence a full investigation of the Bank’s involvement in the controversial project.

Construction of the 1,870 MW hydropower dam began in 2006 without completed studies or secured financing. The dam represents Ethiopia’s largest infrastructure project to date. The African Development Bank is expected to consider around $250 million in project financing despite the fact that the dam poses massive social, environmental and economic risks which have yet to be addressed.

The Gibe 3 Dam will bring significant harm to local people in Ethiopia, where affected peoples and civil society have been unable to raise concerns about the project due to fear of government retaliation. The requestors charge that poor preparation has resulted in multiple violations of the African Development Bank’s Environmental and Social Assessment Procedures and its policies on: Disclosure of Information, Gender, Poverty Reduction, Resettlement, and Water Resources Management. The request for project investigation was submitted after more than four months of failed attempts to discuss the concerns with Bank staff.

Terri Hathaway of International Rivers said, “The Bank’s failure to protect hundreds of thousands of project affected people is scandalous. Bank support for Gibe 3 would tarnish the Bank as a creator of poverty and enabler of closed-door corruption. We look forward to a full investigation of the Bank’s role in the Gibe 3 Dam.”

The Gibe 3 Dam will have irreversible and highly negative effects on up to half a million people living downstream in Ethiopia and Kenya. The natural flood cycle of the Omo River, which is central to the downstream region’s economy and food security, would be fundamentally disrupted, causing community systems to unravel and resource conflicts to increase. Filling the dam’s reservoir would drain Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, stressing its fragile ecosystem to the brink of collapse. Many predict that these effects could destabilize the region, particularly the disputed national borders between Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan known as the Ilemi Triangle.

Other concerns identified in the request for investigation:

  • Project consultation has been a farce. Most downstream affected communities are part of indigenous groups which are physically and linguistically isolated, and politically and economically marginalized. Only 93 people from the downstream affected communities were officially consulted.
  • The Bank has ignored serious violations of Ethiopian law made by the government of Ethiopia in order to advance Gibe 3 construction.
  • An assessment of the dam’s environmental and social impacts was poorly prepared, grossly inadequate, and approved long after project construction began.
  • The project’s massive cost and improper contract procurement raise numerous concerns about the financial and economic risks the project poses to Ethiopia. An assessment of the project’s costs and predicted revenues has still not been completed. The project’s closed-door, no-bid contract is contrary to African Development Bank procurement policies and could be swindling the government out of a far more cost-effective deal.

Caterina Amicucci of Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale said, “Ethiopia’s limited freedom of expression has silenced the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians whose livelihoods will be destroyed by the dam. Our request is raising the concerns they can’t voice themselves. We applaud the CRMU for moving forward with a full, independent investigation. We hope the investigation will uncover and remedy any and all violations related to the Bank’s involvement in this project.”

Gibe 3 Background
Gibe 3 Dam is located around 450 km south of Addis Ababa in the middle reach of the Omo River within the Omo-Turkana Basin. The dam will be 240m high, making it Africa’s tallest dam. The dam will create a huge reservoir with a storage capacity of 11.75 billion m3.

Since 2008, Bank staff have been preparing the Gibe 3 Dam project for formal funding consideration by the AfDB Board of Directors. The board date, originally scheduled for February 2009, has yet to be announced.

This is the fourth claim registered by the CRMU since the unit was established in 2004.

For more information, visit International Rivers’ Gibe 3 Dam campaign webpage.

1 Compliance Review Mechanism Unit

2 The five organizations are: Anuak Justice Council (US); Bank Information Center (US); Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale (Italy); Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (South Africa); and International Rivers (US).

3 In March 2009, Friends of Lake Turkana submitted a request to the CRMU regarding Bank violations related to social and environmental impacts in northern Kenya. The request has led to a mediation exercise currently underway to remedy the problems.