World Bank Damns Lake Turkana by Approving Gibe III Power Line
Nairobi - 13 July 2012 - On Thursday, 12 July 2012, the World Bank shafted its own Safeguard Policies and effectively doomed Lake Turkana by approving the Eastern Electricity Highway Project connecting Ethiopia’s electrical grid with Kenya’s. The Bank has committed to fund the 1,000 km transmission line from Ethiopia to Kenya via a credit line.
Considering that most of the electricity that Ethiopia will export to Kenya will come from Africa’s most destructive hydropower dam, Gibe III Dam, which the World Bank itself withdrew funding for saying it was against their Safeguard Policies, this approval is equal to smearing mud in the face of these same policies.
Ms. Ikal Angelei, founder of the Friends of Lake Turkana, an activist group that has been fighting the Gibe III Dam since 2008, felt betrayed by the organization that she lobbied until they withdrew funding for building the dam. “The World Bank stood by its principles when it refused to fund the dam in the absence of concrete measures to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and address serious environmental concerns,” she said, “Now it has stamped on those same principles by funding Gibe III through the back door.”
The Gibe III Dam is considered Africa’s most destructive dam project, threatening the food security and local livelihoods of at least half a million people in the Lower Omo Valley and along the shores of Kenya's Lake Turkana. The project has been in violation of Ethiopia’s laws on environmental protection and procurement practices. Although the dam will cut off the main water supply for Lake Turkana for years while the reservoir fills, Ethiopia continues to maintain that the dam will have no negative impacts on the Lake. Ethiopia has done no scientific analysis on the impacts of the dam on the Lake.
Gibe III has always been justified as producing electricity for domestic consumption and for export. Official East African Power Pool (EAPP) documents list only five projects being developed in Ethiopia for the power pool (all large hydropower dams); only Gibe III will be online by the time the transmission line is complete. This means that, at this time, the transmission line would not be viable without Gibe III, and hence, Gibe III is indeed an Associated Facility of the power pool. Exporting electricity to Kenya has always been presented as part of the Gibe III Dam’s rationale.
By approving this project, the World Bank in effect deviously endorses the building of Gibe III, thus placing the lives of more 500,000 people on the line and damning perhaps the only significant natural life-support system in the dry Omo-Turkana ecosystem.
Lake Turkana is the largest permanent desert lake in the world, and a profoundly important oasis in a harsh and unforgiving land. Nearly 90% of the lake’s inflow is from the Omo River which Gibe III is damming. Gibe III is projected to result in a drop of 7-10 meters in the lake’s depth in the first five years alone (without considering the impacts of climate change). Resulting changes in the chemistry and sediment levels of the river threaten the region’s tremendous biodiversity, including large populations of Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus, and over 40 different species of fish and snakes.
The EAPP is hugely dependent on hydropower. Presentations by EAPP officials list additional power projects for a total of 12,070 megawatts, of which all but 300 megawatts are supposed to be generated by hydropower plants. This one-sided focus will massively increase the climate vulnerability of the whole region.
Since droughts and floods are expected to become more frequent and intense under climate change (including in the Horn of Africa), the Director of the International Monetary Fund’s Africa Department recommended in August 2011 that governments “work to minimize a very significant dependence on hydropower in East Africa.” The World Bank’s own ESMAP suggested in January 2011 that for heavily hydro-dependent countries “an adaptation response [to climate change] may require a policy decision to diversify away from hydropower.” Oddly, the World Bank admits that it did not evaluate the transmission line for climate risks.
The Friends of Lake Turkana lobby is now calling on the World Bank to cancel its support for this transmission line that is a clear endorsement of one of the most dangerous development projects in the world.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) is a community trust interested in the survival and conservation of Lake Turkana, its ecosystem and its cultural diversity. For More information go to www.friendsoflaketurkana.org