On Gibe III dam : Weighing the UN Committee’s decision | Ethiopia

It was by the end of last month, a UN Committee urged Ethiopia ‘to immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam’. The issue became public at the end of last week, when the Committee’s documents were published on its website.

That is ‘the World Heritage Committee’ (aka ‘Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value’), established within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) in pursuant to Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

The Committee passed the decision regarding the Gilegel Gibe III dam project on its 35th session, held from June 19-29/2011 in Paris, France.

The decision begins stating: Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7B.Add’. The latter is the agenda document prepared jointly by the World Heritage Centre, a department of the UNESCO, and by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a consortium of governmental and non-governmental agencies. IUCN is given an advisory status by the Convention.

A 4-page agenda, titled ‘Reports on the State of Conservation of Properties Inscribed on the World Heritage List Natural Properties…..Africa..Lake Turkana National Parks (Kenya) (N 801bis)’ was among those that the two bodies distributed to Committee members on May 27, 2011. The agenda documents includes a ‘draft decision’ text, which became the final decision with the insertion of one minor phrase.

It is not wrong for a meeting to fully endorse a draft decision submitted with the agenda if those responsible for it sufficiently researched and articulated the matter.

In fact, Article 23 of the Committee’s Operational Guidelines stipulates:

23. Committee decisions are based on objective and scientific considerations, and any appraisal made on its behalf must be thoroughly and responsibly carried out. The Committee recognizes that such decisions depend upon:
a) carefully prepared documentation;     b) thorough and consistent procedures;
c) evaluation by qualified experts; and   d) if necessary, the use of expert referees.

Thus, the agenda prepared by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN is expected to be based on a ‘thoroughly and responsibly carried out’ appraisal.

But was it so?

The agenda document notes that World Heritage Centre and IUCN received had received ‘an information’ including an African Development Bank’s document from two anti-Gibe III campaigners – International rivers and Friends of lake Turkana in March. Subsequently, the World Heritage Centre requested Ethiopia for ‘additional details on the GIBE III dam project as well as a copy of its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA),’ only to receive a reply letter stating ‘assessments have been conducted…precautionary measures have been put in place, and will continue to be implemented’.

Then, the agenda document presents the issues with the dam project – the core part of which is the following:

a) Likely impacts of the GIBE III dam

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that two EIAs [Environmental Impact Assessments] have been prepared for GIBE III proposal…..While neither EIA has been submitted to the World Heritage Committee for review, the African Development Bank’s evaluation of these documents is reviewed below.

The African Development Bank’s (ADB) ‘Assessment of Hydrological Impacts of Ethiopia’s Omo Basin on Kenya’s Lake Turkana Water Levels’, in which was released in April 2010, notes that the filling of the GIBE III’s very large reservoir will require several years and will “…deprive the lake of 85% of its normal annual inflow in one year…”, and cause the lake’s water level to drop significantly. In particular, the ADB study notes that the filling of the dam’s reservoir is likely to “…dry up Ferguson’s Gulf, the most productive fishing area of the lake.” The African Development Bank hydrology study also notes that a number of the project’s potential impacts have not yet been quantified, including the likely impact of the dam’s reservoir, which will capture sediment transported by the river, leading to erosion, changes in water quality, and reduced water tables, and large-scale potential water seepage losses through the reservoir. This study states the even greater hydrological changes could result from plans to exploit the Omo River for irrigation, which could permanently reduce flows into the property by 30% or more.  [The underlines are mine]

This ‘review’ of African Development Bank’s document is the sole basis of the agenda, then decision. There is not section ‘b’ after it. The rest of the pages simply rehash the points above and end with the ‘draft decision’ text.

Well, Ethiopia might have failed to provide the EIAs and other documents. Yet, one may ask whether the experts at the World Heritage Centre and IUCN shouldn’t have obtained the documents from www.AfDB.org or www.Gibe3.com websites, given the magnitude of the project and their conclusion – that is, to ‘immediately halt all construction’ at least for one year, if not for good.

Secondly, even in the case of the African Development Bank’s document, wasn’t it prudent to obtain the document directly from the Bank or from the author – Water Resource Associates?Because had they done so, they would have learnt that:

* the final version of the document was released on November 2010, not in April – that was a draft.

* it doesn’t contain claims like this one – “…dry up Ferguson’s Gulf, the most productive fishing area of the lake.”

* It discards concerns of water seepage asserting that:

Recent studies suggest that the concerns about underground seepage losses were unfounded

[It] has been claimed, there is 50-75% loss of Gibe III’s storage due to seepage underground….However, these claims on losses are improbable and have not been substantiated.

* It could also saved the decision from juxtaposing the Gibe III dam project with concerns on irrigations. As the Bank’s document notes that:

The filling of the Gibe III reservoir will cause a two-meter drop in Lake Turkana’s level. Thereafter, the dam alone will not alter the annual water volume inflow volume, except insofar as losses that occur within the Gibe III reservoir. Hence, as long as reservoir losses are proved minimal, once filled, Gibe III alone will not cause lake levels to fall. The real challenge to lake levels lies with other consumptive use projects within the Omo Basin, namely extensive irrigation development, which is independent of Gibe III.

Note that irrigation abstraction is not a project component of the Gibe III project, as the dam is developed solely to generate power, but indirectly, the regulated flow sequence from the dam is expected to stimulate small-scale irrigation.

Alas, the experts at World Heritage Centre and IUCN didn’t read the African Development Bank’s document at all! Even the one, International Rivers dropped by their office.

They simply fetched a year old letter from their file and made a skillful copy-paste job. That is – the August 2010 letter from International Rivers and Friends of Lake Turkana. All the underlined phrases, in the quote above, are directly taken from that letter! While the rest (the not-underlined sentences) are merely rephrased and/or are conjunctive phrases. [Compare the two and judge for yourself!] Perhaps, this is why the agenda document fails to mention the August 2010 letter. As anyone in academia knows, students/researchers rarely list a material from which they borrowed too much.

Of course, this is not plagiarism in the technical sense. The experts of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN may not be supposed to deliver an original finding. But, surely, they were supposed to read the document they claimed to have read and reviewed. Rather than making up their mind based on a 3-page letter of one party and, worse, tabling it for the Committee as a ‘reports’.

In fact, I dare say, it was written in one sitting and was not reviewed latter, judging by its quality compared to about 5 other similar agenda documents I read for comparison.

With this in mind, the claim by Peter Bosshard, International Rivers’ Policy Director, that  ‘the decision to protect Lake Turkana was taken by a UN body (of which Ethiopia is a member), not by NGOs’ rings hollow. In fact, it is difficult to tell which is which.

However, the bureaucrats of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN who prepared the agenda document are too distant and my relation with them, if any, is indirect. Thus, I shall turn to those who interact with the Committee on my behalf – the Ethiopian officials – what they did and what they could/should have done.

[To be continued….]Read HERE


P.S. – The discussion so far are is solely intended to weigh whether the decision is as good as its name sounds – ‘a UN committee decision’. That, it is not original nor based on an independent review of the dam project. [Thus, I didn’t address all the claims made on the impacts of the dam – of which some might be accurate, others might need further study. So that, they would be taken into consideration in the filling of, and latter management of, Gibe III’s reservoir.]

Daniel Berhane

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