Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ethiopia's giant dam muddies the waters downstream in Egypt - The National

ASWAN, EGYPT // About 1,287 kilometres south of this Egyptian city where the Nile river pours into Egypt, construction has begun on a massive dam being built in Ethiopia that could destabilise Egypt in a way that would make the last year of political upheaval look minuscule, analysts say.
If constructed at specifications revealed last year, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would result in cuts in electricity, a reduction in agricultural lands and water shortages across major cities in Egypt, new studies say.
"In short, it would lead to political, economic and social instability," said Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, who was Egypt's minister of water and irrigation until early last year. He edited a book-length collection of studies on the dam published last month. "Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It's huge."
Those dire forecasts stem fromEthiopia's decision last year to announce an increase in the size of the dam, which is already under construction 40 kilometres from the Sudanese border. Ethiopian officials revealed the depth of the dam would be enlarged to 150 metres from 90m, alongside plans to boost electricity production and use water pooling behind the dam to irrigate more than 500,000 hectares of new agricultural lands.
Ethiopia's announcement has created new tensions in water-rights negotiations among the 10 countries that form the Nile Basin and emerged as one of the biggest diplomatic challenges for a growing Egypt.
More than any of the other countries along the basin, Egypt and Sudan are dependent on the water from the river because of their lack of secondary water resources and little rainfall. Egypt receives 55 billion cubic metres and Sudan receives 18.5bn cubic metres per year, under a series of agreements that date back to a 1929 treaty drawn up by Britain when it held power over much of North Africa.
Those agreements have long irked upstream countries, which they describe as a colonial-era injustice because of treaties' favourable distribution of water to Egypt and Sudan, as well as giving them the right to veto projects that would be "harmful" to their national interests.
The Nile Basin Initiative was established in 1999 to establish an equitable agreement among the countries. But divisions emerged from the start, hinging on Egypt's and Sudan's unwillingness to negotiate their share of the water and insistence on retaining veto rights. Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed their own deal, known as the Entebbe Agreement, that said projects could be built as long as they don't "significantly" affect the water flow. Egypt, which sees the wording as a precursor to cuts of its share, called the agreement a "national security" threat.
Ethiopia in particular has struck a defiant stance, with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi saying in a television interview in 2010 that "some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to Egypt… The circumstances have changed and changed forever".
Just a month after the uprising in Egypt forced Hosni Mubarak to resign and hand power over to the military, the Nile river tensions escalated to new levels when Ethiopia announced new details of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Ethiopian officials said there would be no impact on Egypt, but analysts and officials in Egypt argue the impact would range from bad to devastating.
The problems would start with the filling of the 62bn cubic metre reservoir behind the dam, which would immediately reduce the flow of water to Egypt and Sudan. How bad the impact would be depends on the rate they decide to fill it

Egypt already has one of the highest rates of recycling water on the continent, reusing water in the Nile delta region as many as four or five times to meet its total needs of 75bn cubic metres a year. Kidney disease in those areas is on the rise and the country's northern lakes are becoming increasingly polluted from water reuse, which is hurting fish populations.
Mr Allam, the former water minister of Egypt, said the country needs solutions to bring even more water to Egypt and cannot sustain on less than its current allotment.
"I believe in the full right of Nile Basin countries, especially Ethiopia, to develop and increase their economies," he said. "But they shouldn't do this if it causes significant damage to their sister countries."
A new panel, with representatives from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as international water experts, is now tasked with assessing the impacts of the dam. They are expected to begin their work in mid-May.
Egypt's main diplomatic tool, analysts say, will be to lobby the World Bank and other donors not to provide financing to projects that hurt its share of the water. Ethiopia has started issuing bonds to raise money, but it would be unable to finance the US$4.8bn (Dh17.63bn) dam without help.
The sabre-rattling among the Nile basin countries has to do with two competing views: upstream countries are looking for development projects that benefit their growing populations quickly, such as dams that increase electricity production and agricultural expansion, while Egypt and Sudan are pushing for a longer term approach that would first enhance the flow of the river before agreeing to projects that will cut back the flow.
"We don't have a crisis in water, but we have a problem in managing it," said Hani Raslan, the director of the Sudan and Nile basin studies programme at the state-run Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Observers in Egypt blame the dispute with Ethiopia - and the wider dispute with the lower basin countries - on Mubarak's neglect of African relations during his more than 30 years of rule that ended last year during a popular uprising.
"We used to have beautiful relations with the African countries," said Fathi El Taher, in the city of Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser near the Sudanese border. "But we abandoned them for Israel and the United States. We need long-term diplomatic solutions and that means going back to our brothers and investing in their countries."
Mr El Taher, 73, was one of the first mayors of Abu Simbel, which is famous for an ancient Egyptian tomb with huge carved statues of Pharoah Ramses II. The entire tomb had to be moved piece-by-piece to higher ground and reconstructed after the completion of the Aswan High Dam that created Lake Nasser and modern Abu Simbel.
"We know about the power of the river," he said. "It is everything to us."

From the Three Gorges to Gibe III: the Great Dam Builders Whac-a-Mole | International Rivers

Ikal Angelei and Dai Qing
Ikal Angelei and Dai Qing

Last Sunday International Rivers brought together Dai Qing and Ikal Angelei, two inspiring river activists from China and Kenya, for a public event in San Francisco. With the Three Gorges and the Gibe III dams, they have taken on some of the most destructive development projects of the past 20 years. Through our global grassroots network, they have engaged in what may be called the great dam builders’ Whac-a-Mole.

Chinese journalist Dai Qing, a Goldman Prize recipient from 1992, has been the staunchest critic of the giantThree Gorges Dam for 25 years. She speaks truth to power with courage and irreverent humor. Newly minted Goldman Prize recipient Ikal Angeleicoordinates the global campaign against the Gibe III Dam, which would devastate ecosystems and livelihoods in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Degrading whole river valleys and impoverishing large populations groups, the Three Gorges and Gibe III dams are symbols of a destructive development model. They are located on different continents, and separated by two decades. Yet the two projects are connected by invisible bonds: They are linked by the top-down globalization of the dam industry, and the bottom-up globalization of grassroots networks.
People displaced by the Three Gorges Dam... (Three Gorges Project Museum)
People displaced by the Three Gorges Dam... (Three Gorges Project Museum)

When Dai Qing campaigned against the Three Gorges Dam in the 1990s, China depended on Western technology to build the mega-dam on the Yangtze River. As a condition of their contracts, Western companies had to cooperate with Chinese partners and transfer their technology in the process. France’s Alstom for example manufactured generators for the Three Gorges Dam in cooperation with China’s Dongfang Electric Corp.

Once the project was completed the Chinese pupils turned around to sell their new expertise on the world market, and soon out-competed their Western masters. In 2010, Dongfang Electric won the contract to supply the equipment for the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia. The contract was funded by ICBC, China’s biggest bank. Like this the Three Gorges Dam has spawned a generation of new projects in Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma and other countries.

The Three Gorges Dam has been built, and the Gibe III Dam is under construction.  Yet through our international network, Dai Qing, Ikal Angelei and other activists have achieved progress beyond the shores of the Yangtze River and Lake Turkana. In a sort of dam builders’ Whac-a-Mole, we have managed to move one actor after the other out of the most destructive types of projects.
...and affected by the Gibe III Dam (Alison M. Jones for
...and affected by the Gibe III Dam (Alison M. Jones for

In 1994, a global grassroots campaign forced the World Bank to withdraw from the disastrous Sardar Sarovar Dam in India’s Narmada Valley. The Bank adopted stronger standards and accountability mechanisms, and has stayed away from the most destructive mega-dams since this time. Yet when the Three Gorges Dam came around in 1996, the export credit agencies of Western governments jumped into the fray and filled the gap that the World Bank had left with their own reckless lending. 

In the late 1990s, the public outcry over the Three Gorges Dam forced the Western export financiers to adopt social and environmental standards of their own. As a consequence these lenders stayed out of the Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan for human rights reasons. For several years, the project did not move forward. Yet in 2003, China’s Exim Bank decided to fill the gap, and the project was built with Chinese technology. Under public criticism, China Exim Bank strengthened itsenvironmental due diligence and suspended some projects in 2007. Yet in 2010, ICBC – China’s biggest commercial bank – picked up the slack in the Gibe III Project.
The New Great Walls: International Rivers event on April 15, 2012
The New Great Walls: International Rivers event on April 15, 2012

Since 2010, International Rivers and Ikal Angelei’s group, Friends of Lake Turkana, have exposed ICBC’s reckless loan for Gibe III in theChinese and international media. The loan is now being discussed as a case of lacking corporate social responsibility in China, and ICBC has not taken up any similar projects since 2010. Will global financiers finally learn to respect social and environmental limits in their lending decisions, or will new actors once again pick up the next generation of destructive projects?

Over the past 20 years we have strengthened environmental standards around the world, and stopped scores of destructive projects in their tracks. On good days I am confident that we are making progress. On bad days, I am concerned that we are losing ground. Yet with partners like Dai Qing and Ikal Angelei, I always know that we are doing the right thing.

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. He blogs at and tweets at

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Struggle against Ethiopian dams proves a prize asset-BBC News -

Lake Turkana at sunset
On first acquaintance, it's hard to see Ikal Angelei as a rebel.
Too young, too mild-mannered (perfect English diction), too much at ease in T-shirt and trousers.
It's a salutary lesson in never judging the book by the cover; because this young Kenyan woman is leading a protest movement that could yet block one of East Africa's most significant infrastructure projects.
The campaign has netted Ms Angelei one of this year's Goldman Prizes, one of the highest annual honours for grassroots environmental activists.
Not that there are too many grass roots in the Turkana region of Kenya, on the border with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda. Rains have been infrequent as far back as communal memory stretches and have become even scarcer in recent years.
The region's prized water resource is Lake Turkana.
It's one of those unusual "endorheic" lakes that has no outflow; water that flows in, and is not used directly, either evaporates or percolates down into aquifers, which in turn provide water for those pastoralists who keep their herds some way distant from the lake itself.
Now, the Ethiopian government is building a major dam, GIBE-3, on the Lower Omo river just over the border. The Omo currently provides about 80% of Lake Turkana's water.
Graphic of GIBE-3GIBE-3 would be one of the biggest dams in the world, dwarfing its neighbours
Nearly 240m high, the dam would generate 1,870MW at full flow. It would become the biggest dam in Africa, and the fourth-largest in the world.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says it must be built "at any cost" to help Ethiopia electrify and develop, and to power the irrigation schemes and plantations he wants to establish along the Omo valley.
Ikal AngeleiIkal Angelei: "When I started this campaign, my own family thought I was crazy"
The Kenyan government, which is likely to buy some of the electricity, also supports the scheme.
But Ikal Angelei fears the dam could dry the lifeblood for hundreds of thousands of people in the river valley and around Lake Turkana - lowering the water level by many metres, increasing the already high salinity, and preventing the drainage into aquifers that keeps cattle alive kilometres away.
"Communities that have been benefiting from the flow and the pasture will all have to move to where water is available - you're creating pressure for conflict in an area that already has a high potential for conflict because of scarce resources," she tells me.
"You do anything to change the current balance, you really exacerbate conflict in the region."
The recently increased aridity, combined with population growth, has already brought conflict, some of it across borders.
In 2006, when parts of Turkana had already gone three years without rain and three million Kenyans were on daily food aid, I visited the region briefly.
A local governor told me of pastoralists crossing the border with Uganda in search of somewhere to water their animals, exchanging fire with Ugandan air force planes; hardly a recipe for stability between neighbours.
Last year saw conflict between the Kenyan Turkana people and the Ethiopian Merille.

Flooding effect of dam on Omo River

At present
Ms Angelei does not downplay the development benefits that GIBE-3's electricity could bring, though she does dispute Ethiopian government claims that its impact on Lake Turkana will be negligible.
What she's asking for first is to have the issues discussed thoroughly and openly, with all factors on the table.
The Ethiopian government awarded contracts for building GIBE-3 without tendering - and when this was pointed out to potential funders including the World Bank, European Investment Bank and African Development Bank, they withdrew.
Kenyan law has been another battleground.
She explains that the government is obliged to consider the needs of local people when considering such projects; and as the dam's first Environmental Impact Assessment didn't even mention Lake Turkana and was kept unpublished for years, she argues the government has broken its own law. A case is currently in the courts.
Turkana is among the "cradles of humanity", where our species lived and evolved; so the area has World Heritage interest as well.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the campaign she's mounted with her group Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) consists of talking to the communities that make up a variegated and neglected social landscape with a literacy rate barely above 10%.
In 2008, she found, hardly anyone she talked to had heard of GIBE-3 even though it was already underway; many did not even know what a dam was. So much for community engagement and informed consent.
A year later, chiefs and tribal elders signed a declaration authorising FoLT to tackle the Kenyan government on their behalf.
She argues that the governments are looking at the potential economic benefits of the project without understanding its economic costs.
No-one has yet studied the net worth of the fish Lake Turkana produces, the benefits of the cattle pasture - and the costs that society will have to bear if those things disappear.
And there are questions too of whether hydroelectric schemes are the best way to power a region that regularly sees droughts and may in future see them even more frequently as a consequence of man-made climate change.
"Turkana Boy" skullThe region's rich anthropology has led scientists such as Richard Leakey to blast the dam
In 2003, 2008 and 2009 Ethiopia saw regular power cuts because of droughts affecting its existing hydro dams, including GIBE-1 and GIBE-2, which also sit on the Omo river.
"Our prime minister said two years ago that we cannot afford to depend on hydro - but now we're going to buy hydroelectricity from Ethiopia, which is even drier than Kenya," she says.
There's a certain irony in noting that just as Ethiopia is encouraging plantations along the Omo basin of cotton, one of the thirstiest crops and not exactly necessary for food, farmers in Australia's drought-hit Murray-Darling basin are being pressured to give it up.
Success is not assured for Ikal Angelei's campaign.
But even if it fails, it will have created a more informed local society, brought governments closer to the position of having to observe their own environmental laws, and made it more difficult to finance projects with dubious credentials.
This year's other Goldman Prizewinners are:
Evgenia ChirikovaEvgenia Chirikova's Khimki Forest protesters have been arrested and beaten for their opposition
  • Caroline Cannon, for campaigning on behalf of her Inupiat people in Alaska to keep the Arctic waters pristine in the face of oil and gas exploitation
  • Evgenia Chirikova, campaigning for the re-routing of a planned road that would bisect Khimki Forest, Moscow's "green lungs"
  • Edwin Gariguez, a priest on Mindoro in the Philippines, who is leading opposition to a nickel mine that he believes will damage nature and the island's indigenous people
  • Sofia Gatica, an Argentinian whose child died from pesticide poisoning and who now organises local women (the "Mothers of Ituzaingo") to oppose indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals
  • Ma Jun, who created an online database showing Chinese citizens which factories are violating environmental regulations.
Each wins $150,000 for his/her campaign, as well as having the chance to raise the profile of the issues on which they work.
In doing so, each has the chance to follow in the footsteps of the late Kenyan campaigner Wangari Maathai, who won the Goldman Prize in 1991 en route to entering parliament, becoming environment minister andthe first environmental Nobel Peace laureate.
"Wangari's fight made us believe that the efforts of one person can go a long way," says Ikal Angelei.
"For me, when I started this campaign in 2008 it was a one-person fight, most people didn't understand what I was doing, my own family thought I was crazy.
"But seeing the impact it's had, the legacy - it's leaving behind a situation where communities are actually believing 'you know what, we can fight for ourselves' - that has been a great inspiration."
Enhanced by Zemanta