Gibe III dam to be operational next year; World Bank ponders credit

Ethiopia’s Gibe III Hydropower dam will be operational by mid-2013.

The Gibe III dam project, with about 1,870 MW installed power generation capacity, located in southern Ethiopia, is the biggest undertaking in the nation, second to the 6000 MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance hydropower project.

The Gibe III dam project is now 55% complete, including the construction of power station, hydro-mechanical and electro-mechanical works, according to a statement from an official of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation statement on a local radio. Construction of transmission lines connecting the Gibe III Hydropower to the national power grid is commencing, he added.

The first unit, with 187 MW power, is expected to  become operational by mid-2013. Professionals from 120 countries as well as 6,000 locals are taking part in the project, according to the official.

The total cost of the project is estimated at 1.5 billion Euro.

The first 40% of the project’s work was financed solely from Ethiopian treasury.

Since then, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China came on board with a 470 million loan.

Now, the World Bank is apparently to extend a 684 million US dollars loan for the construction of transmission lines to Kenya.

The anti-Gibe III dam activist organization, International rivers, claimed on Tuesday, in an article titled ‘World Bank to Fund Gibe III Dam through the Backdoor?’, that:

The World Bank would like to turn Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo into regional hydropower “batteries” that can electrify large parts of Africa. Doing so would require the construction of large dam cascades and extensive transmission networks in Eastern and Central Africa. The record of dam building in Ethiopia and the Congo is such that the World Bank is not keen to get involved with these messy projects directly. Instead it plans to pour large amounts of foreign aid into the transmission lines on which the power projects depend.

On June 21, the World Bank is expected to submit to its Board of Directors a credit of $684 million for a 1,000-kilometer-long transmission line from Ethiopia to Kenya. Strong evidence links this transmission line to the Gibe III Dam. The Resettlement Action Plan, an official project document, states that the line “is planned to provide reliable power supply to Kenya by taking it from Ethiopia’s Gilgel Gibe hydropower scheme.”

In a letter to Friends of Lake Turkana, an environmental group, the Bank confirmed in March 2010 that the Ethiopian government had “asked the World Bank to consider providing funding support to the Gibe III hydropower project and the associated transmission lines.”

Now that the impacts of the Gibe III Dam have become so publicly apparent, the Bank no longer wants to be associated with it. In a meeting last month with environmental organizations, Bank managers claimed that the transmission line would not be used to export electricity from the mega-dam on the Omo River. The Bank even edited the Resettlement Action Plan and replaced the reference to Gibe by “from Ethiopia’s power grid” in its version of the document.

Transmission lines and power projects depend on each other. If transmission lines become a focus of the World Bank’s development aid for Africa, the institution needs to clarify where the electricity for these projects will come from.

Indeed, any finance to the transmission of electricity from Ethiopia to Kenya would be financing the dam. As the bulk of the power to be generated by the Gibe III dam is earmarked for export to Kenya. Moreover, Ethiopia is inter-connecting its national power grid and unlikely to halt that for a couple of millions from the World Bank.

Perhaps, this indicates the Bank is sandwiched between western anti-dam groups and the fact that the West has no longer financial monopoly with the advent of Chinese investment. Not to mention, the need to stay relevant by taking part in this landmark regional project which will be completed anyways. 

In a related development, an American organization awarded anti-Gibe dam activist Ikal Angelei, last month. Angelei is founder of  the anti-Gibe III dam group, Friends of Lake Turkana, which is allegedly a satellite of International Rivers. In an interview with a media, after the award, Angelei had this to say:

Q: You think of this project as a human rights abuse as well as an environmental abuse?

Angelei: Yes, I think it is a human rights abuse and an environmental abuse.You cannot say “development” is telling people that your way of life doesn’t work anymore. People have to develop in the way they see fit. If I don’t want to drive, it doesn’t mean I’m not developed. It means I am living my life in the way I see fit, as long as I am able to achieve my spiritual and basic needs.

The naivety in Angelei’s statement is a reminder of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s remarks during in his speech at the Hydropower conference on March 2011. He characterized the anti-dam groups ‘based and financed from Europe and North America US and Europe’ and campaigning against Ethiopia’s Hydro-electric dam projects as ‘hydropower extremists’ and snubbed their position as ‘not only irrational but also bordering on the criminal’. He said:

In the words of President Museveni these people are concerned that butterflies will be disturbed by such projects and they will not allow the disturbance of butterflies even if this means millions of people have to be subjected to the deadliest killer diseases of all, poverty, in order not to disturb the butterflies……..

Their holier than though attitude is all the more ironic because these groups who have done virtually nothing to stop their countries from building all the dams they can build while at the same time single handedly subjecting our planet to the threat of catastrophe because of global warming are trying to stop projects in poor countries such as Ethiopia that are infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present. I am not a believer in conspiracy theories but if I were I would conclude that these people want Africa to remain as it currently is with all its misery and poverty so that they can come and visit nature in its pristine state in the winter every so often. Beyond conspiracy theories I believe the position taken by such groups is not only irrational but also bordering on the criminal.

A related news on yesterday indicated that Ethiopia’s electric power generation capacity has reached 2,140 MW.

Chief Executive Officer the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation told a local newspaper that the power generation capacity of the nation has reached 2,140MW from only 370MW 21 years back. He also said that the national electricity coverage has grown to 47 per cent from only eight per cent in 1991.

According to the CEO, the per capita energy consumption at that time was below 20KW at household level but currently it is 100KW. He further pointed out that to date 6000 towns and rural areas have been electrified. This figure was 320 in the year 1991. The CEO indicated that the national power coverage is planned to reach 75 percent by the 2015.


Check the Gibe III dam Archive for previous and forthcoming news and in-depth analyses.

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