Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia
Descending from the central Ethiopian plateau, the Omo River meanders across the country's parched southwest before spilling into Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake. The Omo River is a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of indigenous farmers, herders and fishermen, who depend on its nourishing floods to sustain their most reliable sources of food.
But Ethiopia's Gibe III Dam and expansion of large, irrigated plantations in the Lower Omo basin threatens the food security and local economies that support more than half a million people in southwest Ethiopia and along the shores of Kenya's Lake Turkana. Construction on the dam began in 2006 with flagrant violations of Ethiopia’s own laws on environmental protection and procurement practices, and the national constitution. The project’s US$1.7 billion contract was awarded without competition to Italian construction giant Salini, raising serious questions about the project’s integrity. As of early 2015, the dam was reportedly almost 90% complete, and water was backing up behind the dam wall.
Project impact assessments were published long after construction began and disregard the project’s most serious consequences. Despite the huge impacts on vulnerable people and ecosystems, NGOs and academics in Ethiopia familiar with the region and the project don’t dare speak out for fear they will be shut down by the government.
Ethiopia would like to make hydropower a major national export, but climate change and ecological degradation could cause the nation’s dams to generate far less power than hoped. The Gibe III Dam could prove to be a risky, economic gamble for one of the world’s poorest countries.
- Ethiopian Dam Threatens to Turn Kenya's Lake Turkana into 'East Africa's Aral Sea'
- Download International Rivers' 2011 fact sheet on the Gibe III Dam
- Explore a BBC multimedia report exposing the dam's flaws.
- Read Kenyan activist Ikal Angelei's article in World Rivers Review on the dam's impact on Lake Turkana.
- Read the Africa Resources Working Group's critique of Gibe III's environmental assessment (January 2009)
- Visit Survival International's website on the Omo tribes
- Visit Tevon Dubois' site on the project: photos, sounds and video, from an extensive stay in the Omo Valley
- Where the Water Ends (video on water conflict in Omo River Basin)
- Read Lake Turkana At Risk: Frequently Asked Questions