Dam construction influences the degradation of rivers and other wetland ecosystems (McCartney, 2007:6). This degradation promotes overwhelming economic and social implications for those who utilise the natural ecosystems for their well-being and livelihoods. Unfortunately these implications can lead to the displacement of many communities. The WCD report estimates that worldwide, dam-triggered displacements have accumulated to between 40 and 80 million people. There is significant disproportion in those who are displaced, with the majority of whom being lower class and poor citizens (McCartney, 2007:6).
The Gilgel Gibe III dam in Ethiopia began construction in 2006 and has an estimated construction cost of $1.7 billion, but requires more than double this estimate for running costs and new power generation projects. When complete the dam will be the largest infrastructure investment to date in Ethiopia, and Africa’s largest hydropower plant (Vidal, 2012). The dam is located on the Omo River downstream from the Goieb and Give Rivers, and will be owned and operated by the state-owned Ethiopia Electric Power Corporation.
The construction of the dam has been criticised for its inadequate planning and lack of contact with local people affected from the construction of the dam (International Rivers, 2008). Before the construction of the dam, the affected communities had limited voice within the resettlement process, and have not yet been notified by planners or the government for ways to address this ongoing problem. This however is not uncommon in Africa, as more than 400,000 people have been resettled as a direct result of dam construction (Vidal, 2012).
More recently the construction of the dam has come to a halt due to the accumulation of human rights abuse allegations. Vidal (2012) notes that thousands of semi-nomadic tribes people are being forced to move from their traditional lands in southern Ethiopia, in order to clear the land for the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III. The clearance of the Omo tribes has been displayed through violent attacks against them committed by the military, stripping local people of all human rights. The tribes have been told that resettlement will be complete by the end of 2012, but received no consultation of their displacement prior to this. This lack of consultation would not happen on this scale in a First world country, which leads me to believe Environmental Racism exists.
The relocation of the Omo tribes will destroy their livelihoods and their subsistence lifestyle. The Omo tribes are described as some of the most diverse in the world, and have until recently relied on the three-month flooding period that happens annually to survive. The flood deposits fertile silt and allows the tribes to plant various vegetation types, yet without the land for cultivation the tribes will be forced into a state of famine.
The watchdog group International Rivers, believe that the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III could eventually affect the lives of more than 1.5 million people. The proportion affected is on such a large scale that from a Western country citizen’s perspective the project should never have started. As a Geographer, I can acknowledge the possibility of discrimination due to location between the North/South divide. This makes it seem probable that due to the location of Ethiopia, Environmental Racism could be present in which has forced local tribes to resettle.
International Rivers. (2008). What Cost Ethiopia’s Dam Boom?: A look inside the Expansion of Ethiopia’s Energy Sector . Available: http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/EthioReport06Feb08.pdf. Last accessed 27th February 2012.
McCartney, M.P (2007). Decision Support Systems for Large Dam Planning and Operation in Africa. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute.
Vidal, J. (2012). Ethiopia dam project rides roughshod over heritage of local tribes people. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/23/ethiopia-dam-project-resettlement-concerns. Last accessed 29th February 2012.
Picture 1: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/23/ethiopia-dam-project-resettlement-concerns
Picture 3: http://peakwater.org/tag/lake-turkana/
Picture 4: http://ethiopiaforums.com/hundreds-of-groups-sign-petition-against-ethiopian-dam