I’ve been keenly following news about dam projects in Etyopia. We have all heard about the Nile river and the potential of dams since we were kids.
“lem aferachin wede gibts eyefesese…“. I still remember the face of some of my school teachers as they talked about how we have failed to use our resources. I now get super excited when I read about dam projects finishing or new ones starting.
If you have noticed, there is some strong opposition to the Gilgel Gibe 3 Dam project. Today I decided to delve into the debate a bit more and went to stopgibe3.org. There are various organizations behind it. I read their summary of what they think are the negative impacts of the dam. I also read some documents and papers they have there.
I’ll explain why.
- The dam will stop the annual Omo flood on which 100,000 farmers and pastoralists depend on.
- Reduction of land may result in resource conflict.
- The dam reservoir will increase malaria.
- The dam will drown sacred areas and displace people.
And then the conclusion comes: stop the dam project. Their page The Story of Gibe 3 starts off with one and only one statement about the power generation capacity of the dam. From that point on though, everything they talk about is the negative aspects of the dam, all concluding to one thing: stop the dam project. This is what I find downright stupid.
I cut my finger. I’m concerned. I head to the bathroom looking for some dettol. Unfortunately bathroom floor has just been cleaned and it’s slippery. I slip and fall, badly hurting my wrist. My finger, although part of my body, is negligible now. It is in the interest of my finger and the rest of my body that I give attention to my wrist first.
Do answer your phone. But you have more things to worry about if your phone rings while you’re being bitten by a dog.
Is the dam any good?
The dam is being built for the whole country. Whether the dam is useful or not should be argued based on not just consequences on people near the river but all Ethiopians, and even neighboring countries as well. Simply stating all the kind of things that can go wrong does not make a logical argument.
A report made six years ago puts the number of electricity customers in Etyopia to a little less than one million. Of course a customer is usually a group of people (such as a household). So the number of people with access to electricity is much larger than the number of customers. Although I couldn’t find a good information about this, various pages I’ve read seem to indicate electricity coverage of 10% to 20% of the population. For argument sake let’s say Etyopia currently has 30% electricity coverage.
This is still not enough. In Addis Abeba only, there are scheduled and random blackouts, hindering businesses, factories, education (schools rely on pre-recorded videos as major means of instruction), hospitals and many other important functions.
stopgibe3 has yet to think about how the dam will benefit the Ethiopian people, and which by the way, the people near the river are part of.
Can we do better than dry land, mosquitoes and conflict?
Is the current situation ideal?
The point I find insulting is how they view the current state of things as the ideal situation. The people rely on flood retreat cultivation. This means they use the rich soil left over when a flood dries out. So the water level is crucial to their survival. This is one of their “strong points” against the dam because the dam will disrupt the river level. However, how can one expect flood retreat cultivation to be reliable even without the presence of a dam? More rainfall means they get flooded. In fact, 456 people have died before due to flooding.
Here is a quote from one of their documents,
Omo Valley was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO because of “The discovery of many fossils there, especially Homo gracilis, has been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution”.
Yes, people should sleep in the dark to preserve the world heritage for tourists to take good pictures and post them on facebook. Don’t mind schools. Kids like it when they’re told there’s no class. There is always another day for businesses. Hospitals, well, surgery can always wait.
Having said that, they do make strong points, such as the people not being consulted about the matter. However, it should be noted that people all over Ethiopia, from 4 kilo in Addis Ababa to villages in remote areas, get displaced when some investor shows interest in a land or when the government decides to start some project. It still doesn’t make it right that the people have not been consulted but let’s keep the overall state of things in mind.