‘Operatic Opposition’ to Disastrous Ethiopia Dam

Justice campaigners today took a musical approach to criticising the Ethiopian, Italian and Irish governments, and potential international lenders to an environmentally disastrous dam project in Ethiopia.

Speaking from the ‘Italian quarter’ in Dublin with an opera performance in the background, Debt and Development Coalition Ireland Co-ordinator Nessa Ní Chasaide said,

“The Italian government and international lending institutions, of which Ireland is a member, are considering supporting an environmental disaster in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. We urge the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan to object to any support from international lenders to this devastating project, especially through Ireland’s membership of the European Investment Bank and the World Bank.”

Ikal Angelei, the chair of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, said: “The Gibe 3 Project will destroy the lifeline of the Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia and the Lake Turkana region in Kenya. It will condemn half a million of the region’s most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict. We ask international banks and companies to stay away from this disaster.”

Ms Ní Chasaide continued, “As Ireland drafts a new policy on international debt, this project is a reminder of the urgent need for Ireland to support the establishment of binding, just and environmentally responsible international lending standards that will protect vulnerable communities such as those in Ethiopia and Kenya from lenders who support unjust and unsustainable projects.“

In its rush to construction, the Ethiopian government neglected to properly assess virtually every aspect of the hydropower project, violating domestic laws and international standards. After awarding a closed-door contract in 2006 to Italian construction giant, Salini, the Ethiopia government paid out $900 million so construction could start. International lenders and governments including the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Italian Government are considering supporting the project. Their support would undermine existing safeguard policies, foster corrupt business practices, and set a precedent that allows financiers to jump aboard fast-tracked projects which have knowingly side-stepped existing safeguards.

In recent days the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China offered to step in with a $500 million loan, making it unclear what European lenders’ next steps will be.

If built, the massive Gibe 3 dam will cause ecological devastation by ending the river’s natural flood cycle, on which the downstream communities have depended for growing food, fishing and grazing animals for thousands of years. The dam will also dramatically reduce the water flow to Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya, the world’s largest desert lake and main water source for Northern Kenya.

For more information on the dam project and a link to the global petition against the dam see: http://www.stopgibe3.org/

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