Indigenous tribes have spoken out against the highly-controversial Chinese-funded Gibe III dam in Ethiopia.
The mega-dam in the south-west of Ethiopia on the Omo River is the third in a series of hydroelectric projects in the region and is being built with help of US$500 million from Chinese banks
As well as providing electricity, supporters say it will regulate seasonal flooding but opponents say it will deprive local inhabitants in the Omo valley of their traditional flood-retreat farming and livelihood.
David Turton, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford who has spent 14 years researching the impact of the dam on local people, told chinadialogue that the promise of development is flawed.
“It is true that some parts of the country that didn’t have electricity will now have some. But frankly, these people can’t live on electricity. They are pastoralists growing their own food, raising their own livestock. They might very well find themselves in the future waiting for international food aid under electric light. What is happening is, their economy is being taken from right under them and forced into being dependent,” he says.
However, where other funders have been sceptical about the benefits of the dam, Chinese lenders have appeared to have fewer concerns.
“The loan from China basically saved the Gibe III dam. It enabled the Ethiopian government to dismiss the concerns of other funding parties. The studies that European Investment Bank and AfDB demanded have not been done. And clearly, the Chinese bank didn’t feel these are necessary,” he says.
The investment could yet turn out to be a bad one for China though, according to Turton.
“If I were a Chinese bank in question, I would be very worried that this could be bad news,” says Turton. “The Chinese loan could rebound very seriously. The Gibe III dam and the associated irrigation schemes are going to become the classic example of how not to do river basin development.”
See also: In defense of dam-building
See also: China brings dam-building back to Africa
chinadialogue intern Aashima Dogra contributed to this article