UN Body Orders Halt on Gibe III Dam Project, Ethiopia Refuses

A view of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia where the Gibe III Dam is being contracted

By TesfaNews,

On its 35th session held in Paris, from June 19-29, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has passed a ‘decision’ ordering Ethiopia ‘to immediately halt all construction works on the Gibe III Dam’.

However, the Chairman of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), Mr. Mihret Debebe, told Addis Fortune that his country rejects the call by the UN body and asserts the project will continue despite mounting objections.

“No matter what is reported, the project will continue, and financing to the project is certain as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has provided 470 million dollars, and the remaining might be covered by Ethiopia.”

There is a growing protest on the project due to its significant impact on Lake Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, its aquatic species and associated biological systems.

Most financial institutions that promised to support the Gibe III project have already withheld their support except for China.  After the decision, one of the anti-Gibe III campaigner, International Rivers, says that ‘with the decision of the World Heritage Committee, the Gibe III Dam is no longer a matter of debate between dam builders, affected communities and environmental organizations.’

Kenyans are very much angered by the project and since last week some members of parliaments have voiced their anger and frustration on the project. The angry MPs, including assistant ministers, accused Ethiopia of becoming unfriendly neighbor, not only for allowing its citizens to attack Kenyans with impunity, but also for building a dam that will make Lake Turkana dry. The lawmakers approved a resolution instructing President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to push the government of Ethiopia to stop the construction of a huge hydro power dam on River Omo.

One of the MPs, Dr. Otichillo, as he rallied MPs to support his motion has said,

“This House resolves that the Kenyan Government officially demands Ethiopia stops the construction of the Gibe III Hydro Power dam until an independent and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment is undertaken and appropriate mitigation measures put in place”

With regard to growing protest within Kenya, Mr. Mihret Debebe noted that, ‘Ethiopia has extensive institutional, professional and governmental forums with Kenya to discuss about different issues concerning the dam project and the positive impact on the ground, which is revealed by the social and environmental impact studies, should be judged against different externalities that can result from the construction of the dam.’

The following is the text of the decision.


World Heritage Committee
Thirty-fifth session
Paris, UNESCO Headquarters
19-29 June 2011
(UNESCO, 2011)

3. Lake Turkana National Parks (Kenya) (N 801bis)

Decision: 35 COM 7B.3

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7B.Add,

2. Expresses its utmost concern about the proposed construction of the GIBE III dam on the Omo River in Ethiopia and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana, which is located downstream in neighboring Kenya and draws almost 90% of its inflow from the above river;

3. Takes note of the African Development Bank’s April 2010 study of the GIBE III proposal, “Assessment of Hydrological Impacts of Ethiopia’s Omo Basin on Kenya’s Lake Turkana Water Levels”, which concludes that the construction and operation of the dam is likely to result in a significant drop in the Lake’s water levels, cessation of the current seasonal flooding pattern, losses of nutrient and mineral-rich sediments due to the upstream reservoir, rising salinity and the disruption of the lake’s chemical balance, among other impacts that have yet to be quantified;

4. Considers that the GIBE III dam is likely to significantly alter Lake Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic species and associated biological systems, which are the basis of its inscription on the List of World Heritage under criterion (x), and that this development may pose an imminent danger to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, in line with Paragraph 180(b) (ii) of the Operational Guidelines;

5. Urges the State Party of Ethiopia to immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam in line with Article 6 of the Convention requiring State Parties not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage located on the territory of another State Party, and to submit all assessments for this proposal to the World Heritage Centre, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;

6. Also expresses its concern about the potential cumulative impacts of the proposed GIBE IV and GIBE V dams and large-scale irrigation plans on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, and requests the State Party of Ethiopia to submit assessments for all proposed dams and associated irrigation plans on the Omo River;

7. Also requests the States Parties of Kenya and Ethiopia to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to review the impacts of the GIBE III dam on the Outstanding Universal Value of Lake Turkana, and to provide detailed information on plans for other hydro-electric developments and associated large-scale irrigation in the Omo region;

8. Encourages all financial institutions supporting the GIBE III dam to put on hold their financial support until the World Heritage Committee reviews this issue at its 36th session in 2012, and to take account of the Committee’s decisions when deciding whether to provide such funding;

9. Further requests the States Parties of Ethiopia and Kenya to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2012, a report on the course of action taken in response to this decision for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to Outstanding Universal Value in light of the mission’s review of the likely impacts of the GIBE III dam on Lake Turkana, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.