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Ethiopia’s push for mega-dams

Proud of its status as Africa’s “water tower”, the country has created controversy along with hydropower as it pursues its strategy to boost energy by 15-fold in a decade. Xan Rice reports.

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At the foot of a towering gorge slicing through southern Ethiopia, the Omo River suddenly disappears into a tunnel bored into the rock face. Excavators claw at the soil and stone in the exposed riverbed beyond, where a giant concrete wall will soon appear in the ravine.

At 243 metres the Gibe III dam will be the highest on the African continent, a controversial centrepiece of Ethiopia’s extraordinary multibillion-dollar hydroelectric boom.

The country that prides itself as the “water tower of Africa” plans to end an energy shortage by building a network of mega-dams on the web of rivers that tumble down from its highlands.

By 2020, with the help of Italian and Chinese construction firms, Ethiopia will, it hopes, have increased its power generation capacity 15-fold and become a significant exporter of electricity to the region.

“For a developing country like ours, the dams are a must,” said Abdulhakim Mohammed, head of generation construction at the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo). “Power is everything.”

But the pace and scale of the hydro projects have alarmed environmental groups, who say proper impact assessment studies are not being carried out.

Gibe III, which will have a generating capacity of 1,870 megawatts (MW) – double what was available in all of Ethiopia last year – has sparked the greatest opposition.

In March, a coalition of campaign groups, including International Rivers, based in Berkeley, California, and Survival International, based in London, launched an online petition with the aim of stopping the dam, warning of potentially disastrous social and economic effects for tribes downstream. [The dam’s builders have rejected the assertions.]

“It’s an unnecessary, highly destructive project,” said Terri Hathaway, Africa campaigner for International Rivers.

Nobody disputes the urgent need for additional electrical power in Ethiopia. In rural areas, where the bulk of the 80 million Ethiopians live, only 2% of households get access to electricity and the capital, Addis Ababa, has been hit by electricity blackouts.

Meanwhile, a fast-growing economy and high population growth has caused the demand for electricity to rise by 25% each year, according to EEPCo.

The country’s topography makes hydropower an obvious solution. Lake Tana, in Ethiopia, is the source of, and provides 85% of the water for, the Blue Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile. The country also has another dozen large river basins. By some estimates, due to the volume of water cascading to the lowlands, the country has got the potential to generate 45,000 MW of hydropower, putting it second in Africa only to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While Ethiopia has approved plans for several new hydro schemes in the coming years, including a giant 2,100 MW project on the Blue Nile, which will also serve Sudan and Egypt, a number of dams have already been built, or are almost complete. The 150-kilometre-long reservoir created by Gibe III will stretch to the tail of the 420 MW Gibe II power project, which was opened in January by the Italian construction company Salini.

Further north, Salini is also constructing a power plant near Lake Tana, while Sinohydro, the Chinese firm that helped build the famous Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River, has just completed another.

The dam-building frenzy is about much more than simply lighting up Ethiopians’ homes. For some, it is about viewing the country’s rivers in the same way as other nations view their oil or mineral wealth: a valuable source of foreign currency.

In the next few years, Ethiopia plans to start transmitting power to its neighbours. The construction of transmission lines to Djibouti and Sudan has begun, and a supply agreement has been reached with Kenya. If all goes well, electricity could become Ethiopia’s most valuable export.

“The potential [for selling electricity] is tremendous,” said Mohammed. “We will eventually connect to Egypt and possibly on to Europe. We might even supply southern Africa.”

But the government strategy faces one big problem: funding. With a price tag of 1.55 billion euros (US$1.88 billion), Gibe III was always going to require external credit. But Ethiopia decided to proceed before financing was secured, and awarded the contract to Salini without tender and without completing an environmental impact study or consulting communities downstream. The process violated the transparency policies of potential lenders such as the World Bank, preventing involvement.

In 2008, two years after the project began, an environmental study was finally published, and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which is considering providing a loan for the still under-funded project, is now conducting its own review.

While few people will be displaced by the dam, up to 500,000 people living further down in the Omo valley and around Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which is fed by the Omo, could be adversely affected, according to International Rivers. The dam will end the river’s natural flood cycle, which herders and farmers have relied on for centuries, and reduce the water level in Lake Turkana, the organisation says.

International Rivers argues that stopping the project will not hurt Ethiopia’s people, since the other dams are likely to more than meet the country’s internal demand to electricity.

But the government has dismissed environmental concerns about Gibe III. And in a sign that it intends pursuing its mega-dam strategy – and avoiding having environmental groups damage efforts at getting funding from international lenders, as has happened with Gibe III – it is looking east for help. Sinohydro had already agreed to build the 1,600 MW Gibe IV dam further down the Omo, a project sure to generate further controversy. The Chinese government will provide the finance.


Power struggle


A World Bank report on African infrastructure, published last November, contained a remarkable statistic: the 48 sub-Saharan Africa countries, with 800 million people, generate the same amount of electricity as Spain, which has a population of 45 million.

The authors identified power as the continent’s biggest infrastructure challenge. More than 30 countries, from economic giants such as South Africa to minnows such as Sierra Leone, face regular shortages, while prices are often more than double than elsewhere in the developing world, due to high operating costs and limited competition.

Lack of investment is the main reason. In 1970, shortly after most sub-Saharan African countries had achieved independence, these nations had three times the electricity generation capacity per person of South Asia. By 2000 the picture had reversed, with South Asia having nearly double the per-capita power levels of sub-Saharan Africa.

The trend has continued, according to the World Bank, with the average individual electricity consumption in sub-Saharan Africa barely enough to light a 100-watt bulb for three hours a day. And the capacity is falling.

To meet its power needs, sub-Saharan Africa needs to spend US$41 billion a year on infrastructure, mostly on new projects, the report concludes.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Homepage image from International Rivers

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

大约十年前,停电在我所居住的城市还是家常便饭的事儿(沿海大城市)。虽然我很怀念那些漆黑、燥热但是宁静的夜晚,家人朋友放下手中的电视遥控器和书报,在阳台上点着蜡烛聊天……但是,电对于一个国家的经济发展太重要了,我想老百姓未必情愿回到那个年代,政府就更不用说了。

如果所有的大坝建设都能再谨慎一些,动工之前多做些环境测评和咨询,我相信的确能降低对生态的破坏。

但当富国插着腰,指责穷国“见钱眼开”,环评不是告诉他们如何降低破坏,而是直接画一个大叉,穷国如何能接受?这在中国有句俗语能表达——站着说话不腰疼。

我们需要引入更实际有效的讨论方式,让穷国在放缓开发步伐的同时,能有切实的收益。

Electricity

About ten years ago, power outages were commonplace in the city I used to live (a large coastal city). Although I do miss those dark, hot, but quiet nights when friends and family put down books and newspapers, turned off TVs, lit candles on the balcony and talked, I still think electricity is too important to the development of a nation's economy. I'd guess that normal people don't necessarily feel nostalgic for those times, let alone the government.

If all of these large dam projects could proceed with a bit more caution, and carry out more environmental evaluation and consultation, I genuinely believe that damage to the environment would be lessened.

However, when rich countries butt in and criticise poor countries for "only looking for money", they are not telling the poorer countries how to reduce environmental damage, but instead directly pointing fingers: How can that be acceptable to the latter? This can be summed up in the Chinese saying- "Easier said than done".

We need to introduce more realistic and efficient methods of discussion, letting developing countries slow the pace of modernisation, and at the same time obtain practical benefit.

(Translator: Ruaridhi Bannatyne)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

吉比3未必在商业上可行

埃塞尔比亚将吉比3(Gibe III )推入服役,以图赚得外汇的做法是鲁莽而草率的。邻近国家的用电需求少得可怜。并且,这些国家的经济薄弱到甚至无法对政治敏感的选民提供补贴。

与其进口电力,这些邻近国家不如想办法减少本国电力在输送过程中的损失。

埃塞尔比亚要拿这项工程赚得的外汇干什么呢?买更多武器(猜猜谁会卖给他?)来对付厄立特里亚或是索马里?

此外,将下游居民的用水生活视为可交易的商品也是一件可耻之事。

此篇由雅晴翻译

Gibe III is probably not commercially viable

It would be very rash for Ethiopia to commission Gibe III in order to earn Ethiopia foreign exchange. The payment record of the power utilities in neighbouring countries is poor. Further, those countries have such weak economies that they could probably not afford to subsidise electricity consumption even in politically sensitive consistuencies.

Rather than import electricity, it would probably be more cost effective for those neighbours to reduce losses in transmissions and distribution locally.

What will the Ehtiopian government do with the any profit it makes from the project - by more weapons (supplied by guess who!) to fight Eritrea and Somalia?

It is also disgraceful that the livelihoods of peoples downstream of the proposed dam are considered expendable.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不要企图用吉比3赚钱

所有埃塞俄比亚的邻国,如肯尼亚、苏丹,甚至是较小的吉布提,都在建立他们自己的发电大坝或者寻求其他的可替代能源。我不认为埃塞俄比亚会从吉比3上大量获益,尤其是如果他们想要把能源出口到邻国或临近地区,如南非和欧洲。

Don't expect to make money from Gibe III

Kenya, Sudan and even tiny Djibuti all neighbors of Ethiopia are either building their own electric generating dams or are trying to find alternative source of energy. I fail to see how Ethiopia will benefit greatly from Gibe III especially if it plans to export power to neighboring countries and regions such as South Africa and Europe.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

我们有一个负责的政府

埃塞俄比亚正在尽力最好地利用我们的自然资源,就像每个发达国家所做的那样。我认为埃塞俄比亚政府重视我们的环境问题不亚于重视我们的社会发展。而往往很多其他发展中国家对他们的环境问题都有所忽视。

Rasyo 来自埃塞俄比亚

we have a responsible government

Ethiopia is doing its best to utilize what ever resource nature gave it. Every developed country did so. I think the Ethiopian government is concerned with the environment equally to the development it aspires to bring about to its people. Viewing all developing countries as negligent to the environment is a usual rhetoric.
Rasyo from Ethiopia

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

米燕·哈桑女士

现在埃塞俄比亚乡村的生活方式,尤其是南部地区,仍然处在较原始的阶段,几乎和他们邻近的野生动物们的生活水平一致。没有电,没有公共医疗设施,没有自来水,几乎和他们几百万年前生活在“露西”时代的祖先一样。

电力是非常急需的以便于来改善他们的生活。而埃塞俄比亚唯一可依靠的发电资源就是他们的天然水力。吉比3工程只能满足非常少的需求量。他们需要更多的能源和更多的大坝。上天给予埃塞俄比亚的资源就是水力,政府和人民的想要利用这一点的想法是很好的。

秘密组织的新殖民主义行为,如所谓的“国际河流”,他们很多的运动脱离人民的需求是完全不可被接受的。众所周知他们的行为违背了非洲人民的利益。

充满非洲人民血汗的非洲大陆与支持他们的友好国家终将获胜!

米燕·哈桑女士 来自南埃塞俄比亚的金卡

Mrs. Miryam Hassan

The present life style in rural Ethiopia particularly in the southern regions is vastly in a primitive stage, the same standard as the wild animals live close to them. No electricity, no public health care facilities, to running tapped water. I.e. in the same manner almost as their foremothers and forefathers lived to the times of “Lucy” millions years ago.
Electric Power is required to transform their lives. The only viable resource Ethiopia has for power generation is her God’s and nature given Hydro. The Gilgel Bibe III project satisfies only few percentage of the total demand. More power more dams are needed. Ethiopia's God given resouce is Hydro. The Ethiopian Government’s and its people ambition is commendable.
Neo-colonialist minded with clandestine organization, such as the so called International Rivers, etc venomous campaign to derail people’s need is totally unacceptable. It is just rubbish. Their hidden agenda against the interest of Africans is well known.
Africa with the blood, sweat of her sons and daughters coupled with the support of friendly countries shall prevail!
Miryam Hassan, Jinka , South Ethiopia

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

离我们远点

非洲受到外部势力干涉其内政和领土争端
一个世纪前,殖民者伪装成传教士的模样,成了非洲主要的殖民统治。为了赢得解放,她付出了血的代价,无数的非洲儿女献出了自己的生命。
现在出现了新的伪装形式,有些人乔装打扮成“运动组织”的样子,他们受雇于对非洲的发展有负面影响的外部势力。小心点这些组织,例如,国际生存组织,国际河流组织。
我们让这些组织替我们斗争,替非洲说话。但是我们不需要他们。我们了解我们自己。
非洲要对这种威胁提高警惕。

埃塞俄比亚的发电项目是为造福她的子民所迈出的一步,这为所有正义人士所共鉴。

M. G . Bongo 法国巴黎

We do NOT need them

Africa had encountered the mingling of external powers in its domestic and sovereign affairs.
• A couple of century ago colonizers disguised as “Jesuit missionaries” were the lead units for colonizing Africa . Africa has liberated herself paying dear lives of her sons and daughters
• Presently, new style of disguise is being is used as “Campaign groups” who are paid by some external forces that have negative interest towards development of Africa . Beware of these organizations , such as Survival International , International Rivers.
We have made them to campaign for us and to be spoke-person for Africa . We do NOT need them. We know for our selves.
Africa need to be vigilant against such threats.

Ethiopia's power generation projects is a step for development of its citizens as shared by all positive minded human.

M. G . Bongo, Paris – France

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

某先生

从两方面来说!一方面西方指控埃斯俄比亚太过于依赖外界救助来供养他们的人民,而另一方面他们并不真的希望他们可以摆脱贫困和依赖外界的恶性循环。众所周知埃塞俄比亚有八千万人口,并且正在增长,人们极度需要能源(事实上需要很多)。那么,埃塞俄比亚如何来获得能源,考虑一下:
1.开发石油能源太贵,且对全球环境不利(全球变暖)。
2.开发核能源更贵且危险,而且也可能被发展成核武器(想到伊朗和朝鲜)。
3.太阳能和风力发电依然很贵,技术还没发展完全,不可依赖。

因此,考虑到所有的能量来源都有其“不可避免的罪恶性”,水力发电要比其他方法好得多,且在埃塞俄比亚可以大量得到。那些所谓的环境专家声称要保护下游的居民是显然非常愚蠢的或根本就是种族歧视主义。那里有什么需要保护的?充满慢性疾病、饥荒、和落后的生活方式还是其他?

Mr

Talk about double standards! On the one hand the west is accusing countries such as Ethiopia for relying too much on aid to feed their own people, and on the other hand they don't really want them to free themselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty and dependency. Everybody agrees that Ethiopia with its 80 million, and growing, population need energy desperately (a lot of it, as a matter of fact). Then, how is the country going to get that energy considering:
1. Fossil energy is too expensive and unfriendly to the environment (global warming).
2. Nuclear energy is even more expensive and hazardous, plus can further be developed to be used for nuclear weapons (remember Iran & North Korea).
3. Solar and wind energy is still expensive, not properly developed yet, and not reliable.
Hence, even if we consider all energy resources are 'necessary evil' then hydro-electric power is much less evil than the rest, and abundantly available in Ethiopia. The so called environmentalists talk of preserving the life-style of downstream societies is downright idiocy or sheer racism. What is there to be reserved? a life style marred with chronic illnesses, famine, backwardness and more?...

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

坚持到底

同意楼上的看法...这种生活方式可能有对一些西方人类学家,游手好闲的游客或者是邪恶的种族主义者来说或许有点价值,他们把自己的文明生活方式和我们相比,还自我感觉良好。但是对于我们来说,这样的生活方式是我们一直想摆脱的。还有那些乐见埃塞俄比亚脆弱和落后的,因为他们觉得埃塞俄比亚的发展会威胁到本国的利益。也因此,他们一直在不懈地破坏我们国家的和平与进步。
我们把这些当做是路上的崎岖之地,也许会拖慢我们进步的步伐。但我们会继续勇往直前,战胜我们的敌人,不管他们怎么武装自己,不管他们是什么种族,我们的存在至关重要,我们会采取一切措施以确保这些水库顺利建成,确保整个埃塞俄比亚能用上电,Period。

We will not give up

Con...That life style might have some value to western anthropologists, brat tourists, and wicked racists who feel better about themselves by comparing their 'civilized' life style to ours, but for us it is a life style we have been struggling to get out from. There are also those who want to keep Ethiopia weak and backward since they see the development of Ethiopia as a threat to their national interest, and they have been working tirelessly to undermine the peace and progress of our country. We see all this as road bumps which might be able to slow our progress, nevertheless this will not stop us and we will defeat our enemies no matter in what shape or color they come; in this case our very existence is at stake, and we will do whatever necessary to make sure that these dams are built and the whole Ethiopia is electrified, Period.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

生存才是真理

我很小就知道埃塞俄比亚这个国家,因为我小时候很瘦很瘦,邻居都开玩笑叫我埃塞俄比亚难民。所以我很小就知道这个国家很穷,国民吃不饱饭。

如果我是这个国家的国民,我才不管一百年后生态是不是被破坏的一塌糊涂,下游人民的生活是不是依然水深火烈。我只希望自己的国家变得富有,强大,人们不再挨饿,不受疾病的困扰,不受列强的欺负。

在解决这些基本生存问题之前,跟他们谈什么“人权”甚至“鱼权”、“河流权”、“森林权”都是假道义。

Life is tough

I have known about Ethiopia since I was a child because I was very thin, and my neighbour used to make fun of me and call me "Ethiopian refugee". That's why I know Ethiopia is a very poor country and its citizens don't have enough to eat.

If I were from that country,I would not care if the ecology would be completely disrupted in a hundred years, or if the people living in the downstream had a tough life. I would just hope for my country to change and become rich, big and powerful, for people to stop suffering from hunger, stop worrying about diseases and the great powers' browbeats.

Talking about human right, fish rights, river rights and forest rights before even solving their basic living problems is a false morality.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

事实

8号评论
希望上帝保佑你。要持续不断地告诉人们真相。对于那些被新殖民主义机构欺骗的人来说,你就是明灯。

the truth

comment#8
God bless you again and again .keep inform the people who do not know the truth.you are the light, for those people who deceived by neo colonization agents.