NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 10 – Members of Parliament on Wednesday put the government to task over the controversial construction of the Gibe III dam by Ethiopia, saying it would negatively impact six Kenyan communities living around Lake Turkana.
While moving the Motion during the morning session, Emuhaya MP Wilbur Ottichilo raised the red flag over the ongoing construction saying it should be stopped until an independent environmental impact assessment was done.
Dr Ottichilo explained that the dam would strain resources in the region which would worsen an already volatile situation. He noted that 20 Kenyans were killed last week by cattle rustlers from the Merille community of Ethiopia.
The dam, which will be the largest in Africa, is being constructed on the Omo River that contributes up to 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s waters.
“The dam will reduce the Omo River flow into Lake Turkana causing the lake’s water levels to drop by 10 meters. This will critically alter the ecosystem affecting over 300,000 people. The lake will also become saline and undrinkable,” he argued.
While seconding the Motion, which was supported by several MPs from across the political divide, nominated MP Rachael Shebesh accused the government of ignoring the plight of its people by allowing Ethiopia to carry on with the project despite the issues raised.
She added that the dam would kill the economic livelihoods of the people living around the Lake and affect their independence.
“If you are negotiating as a government on behalf of your people the first people you should consider are those who will be affected by what you’re negotiating about. The government should not negotiate away the rights of Kenyans,” she said.
“This dam will make 300,000 people crawl to their knees!” she moaned.
However Water Minister Charity Ngilu assured the House of the government’s commitment to protecting its people. Ms Ngilu said the government had already set up a committee to look into the issue before presenting its report in September.
She added that when the Ethiopian government first undertook to construct Gibe I with a capacity of 839 million cubic meters on River Gibe, which is a tributary of River Omo, no questions were raised. She however observed that the construction of Gibe II, still on River Gibe, caused concern.
“They went on to do Gibe III and the Kenya government realised there was going to be trouble. And it is true that if we don’t do something, the only desert lake in the world will be badly affected and could even dry up,” explained.
The United Nations has already condemned this dam saying its construction should be halted. The Ethiopian government has however vowed to carry on.
According to Forestry Assistant Minister Josephat Nanok (Turkana South MP) 41 percent of the dam is being constructed with the aid of the Chinese government after the World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank pulled out.
“Our only problem is the Chinese government; they created problems in Sudan and now they want to do the same here. Let our government use the projects being undertaken by the Chinese in Kenya as leverage to negotiate on our behalf,” he said.
Luka Kigen (Rongai), Peter Baiya (Githunguri), Wavinya Ndeti (Kathiani), Chachu Ganya (North Horr), Nkoidila ole Lankas (Narok South) and Yusuf Chanzu (Vihiga) all supported the Motion.
They asked the African Union to intervene and ask Ethiopia to stop the construction. They also accused the government of casually handling the matter.
According to Mr Nanok, Gibe III will take three to five years to fill and should be completed by July 2013. The Ethiopian government is also planning on the construction of Gibe IV with the support of China.
Meanwhile Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim has issued a stern warning to ministers, their assistants and MPs who habitually skip Parliament when they are supposed to respond or ask questions. Mr Maalim said he would apply standing orders against such members with a view of suspending them.
The top officials of the Ministry of Agriculture have also been summoned by the Agricultural Parliamentary Committee on August 15 to explain why the industry is making huge losses through the exportation of raw produce like coffee and cashew nuts.