Ethiopia to fill Gibe III dam, rejects renewed calls for halt

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Addis Ababa, 12 June 2014 (WIC) – Ethiopia has rejected renewed calls for suspension of the construction of Gibe III dam as it prepares to start filling the reservoir of the hydroelectric dam being built in the lower valley of the Omo River

Ever since the country launched the Gibe III project, some groups have been calling for the halt of the construction citing environmental and social concerns. However, the construction has continued unabated with over 84 percent of the project so far completed

“We expect to start filling the reservoir in few months and begin dry commissioning afterwards,” Fekahmed Negash, boundary and transboundary rivers affairs director at the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, told WIC.
Fekahmed rejected a renewed call by the World Heritage Site Committee asking Ethiopia not to fill the dam ‘until a comprehensive social and environmental study of the developments is completed’.
“Building the dam is our sovereign right. Telling us to suspend the construction amounts to trampling this right,” Fekahmed said. He said five environmental impact assessment studies conducted on Gibe III project commissioned by independent organs support Ethiopia’s position that the project will cause no ‘significant harm’

The organs include the African Development Bank, World Bank, European Bank and two studies commissioned by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation.
Omo River contributes to 80 percent of the Turkana Lake, a rift valley lake whose large swaths are located within the Kenyan territory. Omo River joins the Turkana Lake, a UNESCO registered world heritage site, inside Ethiopia.
Last month the World Heritage Site Committee called for Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, to be listed as a ‘World Heritage Site in Danger’, a move that might put pressure on the Kenyan government.
Independent studies say the Lake level has declined 15 to 20 m during the last century. The lake’s water level indicate wide variations but evaporation posses the biggest loss of water.
“The level of water has been declining for years even before the launch of this project,” Fekahmed noted. “By storing and regulating the water in a cooler climate and inside a gorge, Gibe III dam reduces the amount of evaporation loss,” he added

The Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism has extended an invitation to heritage conservationists in Kenya who are expected to visit the dam site. In the past, a 26-member Kenyan delegation, including parliamentarians, had visited the project. Kenya has since expressed its support for the project

“Both Ethiopia and Kenya are working together to preserve the ecosystem of the Turkana Lake and jointly administer it,’ Fekahmed explained.
“Those calling for the suspension of the project could come and work with us instead of coming out with orders that defy our sovereign rights,” he added

The 1,870 MW Gibe III hydropower plant is expected to nearly double Ethiopia’s current power generating capacity. Ethiopia plans to export a portion of that electricity to Kenya with a power purchase agreement already signed between the two neighboring countries.
Gibe III is the tallest a Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) dam in the world standing 243 meters tall, which will have the capacity to hold as much as 14 billion cubic meters of water.