Ethiopian dam spurs debate

Updated 08 June 2012
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Ethiopian dam spurs debate

The mud-colored Omo River, which snakes through green gorges, feeding lush vegetation and providing vital water to one of Ethiopia’s most remote regions, will also power a contentious dam project.
The government says the Gibe III dam will boost development, give access to power for many Ethiopians — about half of the population — currently living without it, and generate revenue from the export of electricity to the region.
But with construction under way for Africa’s highest dam at 243 meters (nearly 800 feet), critics say Ethiopia must also consider the environmental and social impact it will have on some 500,000 people living downstream and at Lake Turkana in neighboring Kenya. Their livelihoods rely on the river.
“If they’re going to build this huge hydro-power dam than it should be done in a way that benefits the people who are most affected,” said David Turton, a senior research fellow at Oxford University’s African Studies Center.
The Omo River is over 700 kilometers (430 miles) long and supplies Lake Turkana with 80 percent of its water. It is a source of annual flooding for the agro-pastoralists living in the South Omo valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The completion of the dam in 2014, which will have a capacity of 1,870 megawatts, will regulate the river’s flow and, according to the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), offer a predictable water source for communities living along the river south of the dam.
Agro-pastoralists in Omo’s valley have traditionally relied on flood-retreat agriculture for cultivation and animal grazing.
“Before, the wet season was two months, or maximum three months, then there was nine months of drought, now for 12 months there will be a regulated flow for all the downstream users,” said EEPCo. chief executive Mirhet Debebe.
The centuries-old flood-retreat agriculture practised by the downstream tribes is a cultural mainstay of the Bodi, Mursi and Nyangatom tribes, famed for their lip-plate and body painting customs.
But Azeb Aznake, Gibe III project manager at EEPCo, has said artificial flooding would be created annually “so that their practice is not interrupted.” She said the regular river flow would provide irrigation for small-scale cultivators downstream, and denied that the Gibe III dam would feed irrigation channels to nearby foreign-owned plantations, as some groups have charged.
“The purpose of the dam is for hydroelectric power, and nothing more,” the power company executive said.
Most of the $1.8 billion (1.5 billion euro) cost of the project — the third in a series of five dams planned along the Omo River — will be covered by EEPCo, with a Chinese firm bankrolling the $400 million electromechanical costs. The dam has been mired in controversy from the project’s inception and the “Stop Gibe 3” online petition has collected over 18,000 signatures.
EEPCo’s Azeb admitted that any project of this magnitude is bound to have an impact on local communities and ecosystems, but said the overall benefits were too great to ignore.
“Water is our major resource.... We have to make use of it and develop, we have to eat three times a day like any human being, so there has to be compromise,” she said.
Power generated by the dam will be fed to a main transmission and sold to neighboring Djibouti — which is already receiving Ethiopian power — as well as Kenya, Sudan and Somaliland, providing a major source of income, CEO Mihret said.
For Frederic Mousseau, policy director at the US-based think tank Oakland Institute, which is opposed to the dam’s construction, the benefits are not widespread enough.

’There must be concern for social justice’ “It’s really about who benefits and what benefits.... At the macro level you might have increased exports, economic growth, but what about human development, what happens to the people?” he said in a phone interview from California.
He urged the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction “so investment could go toward infrastructure that could really benefit the people.” Some nearby residents welcome the job opportunities that have accompanied the dam’s constructions. Over 4,000 Ethiopians have been hired to help build Gibe III, which was started in 2006 and is over 50 percent complete.
“It is good for our development and the area’s development (because) we get more employment,” said Mengistu Mara, 26, a student in Lala town about 30 kilometers away from Gibe III.
His brother who works as a crane operator at the dam pays Mengistu’s school fees at the local high school, built in 2009 by the dam’s contractors.
“I’m learning now because my brother is bringing me money,” he said, standing in front of the school built near the village’s newly paved road.
Lala resident Desalegn Barata, 41, also welcomed the job creation, but said that even with the construction site next door his community still has no clinic.
“There is no clinic or hospital and there are many diseases here,” he said, swatting at the flies swarming around him in the midday heat.
For analyst Turton, the government should prioritise social justice as the project moves ahead, saying it is possible to balance the benefits with the potential impact.
“This is often presented as a choice between development and what we sometimes call cultural preservation, it’s presented as sometimes you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” he said, adding that he is not opposed to the construction of Gibe III.
“But it should be done in a way that shows a concern for social justice.”


Ankara’s handling of EU programs for Syrian refugees under scrutiny

Syrian refugees wait at the main bus station in Istanbul. The Facility for Refugees in Turkey is the main mechanism to financially support around 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, and it is endowed with $6.78 billion. (Reuters)
Updated 11 min 54 sec ago
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Ankara’s handling of EU programs for Syrian refugees under scrutiny

  • One of these two EU-funded programs addresses Syrian children’s school-related needs, and is also supported through grants from the US and Norway

ANKARA: The European Court of Auditors (ECA), a Luxembourg-based financial watchdog, emphasized in a report published on Tuesday the difficulties in properly tracking the EU funds provided to Turkey to address the needs of refugees while living outside camps.
The Facility for Refugees in Turkey is the main mechanism to financially support about 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, and it is endowed with €6 billion ($6.78 billion) that will be disbursed in two installments for financing various projects addressing the urgent needs of refugees and their host communities.
The ECA criticized the transparency level of two cash-assistance humanitarian programs — valued at about €1.1 billion — where it was not possible to properly track the flow of money going to the beneficiaries from registration until payment.
Ankara reportedly declined to disclose the beneficiaries’ names, and instead gave anonymous banking details.
One of these two EU-funded programs addresses Syrian children’s school-related needs, and is also supported through grants from the US and Norway. The other program, the Emergency Social Safety Network, is intended to provide assistance for food and rent.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Bettina Jakobsen, a member of the ECA and chief auditor of the report, said the Turkish authorities referred to their national legislation on data protection as a basis for not granting access to the UN partner or ECA access to beneficiary data.
“We consider that this lack of access to final beneficiaries’ data de facto limited the scope of our audit and the related level of assurance we can provide,” she said.
“At the time of the audit, no issue of fraud or corruption has been reported. We have not experienced any other difficulties when carrying out our audit procedures and the cooperation with the Turkish authorities was good.”
In the context of the second tranche, the ECA recommends that the European Commission insist that the Turkish authorities grant full access to the beneficiaries’ data.
“The commission should also scale up monitoring and reporting on the facility. In addition, the ECA is also carrying out legality and regularity audits, and considering the scale of these projects, an audit of the legality and regularity of the related payments may take place in the coming years,” Jakobsen told Arab News.
During a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, Jakobsen said the lack of access to such key information was unprecedented in her career and this was the first time the institution had faced such a refusal, leading to some “doubts.”
However, Ayselin Yildiz, UNESCO Chair on International Migration at Yasar University in Izmir, said she was surprised that the European authorities are pushing Turkey not to respect data protection rights.
“Of course, the procedures of allocation and spending of the funds have to be transparent and accountable, but it does not require sharing the details of individual data with third parties,” she told Arab News.
Yildiz, who has coordinated and worked on several EU-funded projects on refugees, also noted that the two cash-assistance programs in question are shuffled through UN agencies, the World Food Programme and implementing partners.
“They must have their own internal control and monitoring mechanisms. These issues had to be set well in the beginning in grant agreements and I question why this has occurred as an obstacle for cooperation two years after the launch of the program,” she added.
“Beyond the trust and accountability problem between the EU and Turkish authorities, we should question if the consent of Syrian refugees has been taken on the conditions of benefiting from these funds and whether they had agreed to share their personal data, which is very sensitive for their future migration journey,” Yildiz underlined.
It was not the only challenge the auditors encountered in monitoring Turkey’s management of European taxpayer money going to Syrian refugees. The report also found that the interest generated on the money in the bank did not reach the refugees or return to the EU taxpayer, but was kept by the implementing partners.
However, the report also welcomed the fact that “all the humanitarian projects audited provided helpful support to the refugees, mainly through cash-based assistance, and most of them achieved their intended outputs.”
The commission will consider the recommendations of the audit report while implementing the next tranche of the assistance between the end of 2018 and 2019, which will amount to €3 billion, to prevent any risk of the funds being misused.
Laura Batalla, the secretary-general of the European Parliament Turkey Forum, said the EU funding for refugees has delivered tangible and measurable results in record time, which has had a positive impact on the livelihood of Syrians living in Turkey.
“Therefore, it should be hailed as a success. The EU and Turkey should, however, take into account the recommendations made by the Court of Auditors to achieve the maximum potential of the facility. Improving transparency is essential in this regard,” she said.
The Turkish government has not yet issued any public statement about the EU audit report.