Ethiopia inaugurates dam to double energy output

A partial view shows Gibe III hydroelectric dam during its inauguration in Shoma Yero village in Southern Nations in Ethiopia, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 18 December 2016
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Ethiopia inaugurates dam to double energy output

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia on Saturday inaugurated a hydroelectric dam that aims to double the country’s electricity output, but which critics say is a threat to locals and a UNESCO-listed lake in Kenya.
The Gibe III dam, which reaches 243 meters in height, is the third-largest dam in Africa and the biggest in a series built along the Omo River.
When it comes fully online, the Gibe III is expected to produce 1,870 megawatts of power, enough to sell energy abroad including to neighboring Kenya. The dam has been generating electricity for about a year.
“This hydroelectricity plant, with other ongoing projects, fulfils our domestic power needs and will be provided for foreign markets,” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a speech inaugurating the dam.
But environmentalists and rights groups warn the project will dramatically decrease water levels downstream all the way to Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which derives 80 percent of its resources from the river.
The lives of hundreds of thousands of people who make their living in the Omo River valley and on Turkana, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, would be affected, they say.
UNESCO has previously condemned the project and Human Rights Watch has accused the Ethiopian government of uprooting people from the Omo Valley to free up land for state-run sugar cane plantations.
“The project has overcome challenges such as financial and environment issues,” Desalegn said. “Some people who think they have a concern for the environment have been downgrading the project rather than being reasonable.”
Project boosters say the dam will allow authorities to better regulate the flow of the Omo, which spools out over 700 km. They also deny the dam is primarily a way to ensure a steady flow of water to irrigate cotton and sugar cane plantations.
Gibe III, located about 350 km southwest of Addis Ababa, took nine years to build and cost 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), with 60 percent of financing coming from the Chinese export credit agency China Exim Bank.
Ethiopia was the world’s fastest growing economy last year at 10.2 percent, however the International Monetary Fund estimates that the worst drought in 30 years is likely to see this plummet to 4.5 percent in 2016.
With no natural gas or oil reserves of its own, the Horn of Africa country is banking on renewable energy to help foster energy independence and economic growth.
Its Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which is slated to be Africa’s largest-ever dam, is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts — tantamount to six nuclear reactors — when it is completed in 2017.
The Blue and the White Nile rivers converge in Khartoum and from there run north into Egypt as the Nile.
But the project has poisoned relations with Egypt, which is almost totally reliant on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water, and fears the dam will hit its supplies.


Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

Updated 6 min 43 sec ago
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Own up to mass Muslim detentions, Amnesty tells China

  • Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang
  • Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment

BEIJING: China must come clean about the fate of an estimated one million minority Muslims swept up in a “massive crackdown” in its far western region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said Monday.
Beijing has tightened restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in Xinjiang.
Critics say the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment.
In a new report, which included testimony from people held in the camps, the international rights group said Beijing had rolled out “an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.”
Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and for the possession of unauthorized Qur’ans, it added.
Up to a million people are detained in internment camps, a United Nations panel on racial discrimination reported last month, with many detained for offenses as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media.
“Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, in a statement.
“They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and escapee testimony.
These suggest that Chinese authorities are detaining large groups of people in a network of extrajudicial camps for political and cultural indoctrination on a scale unseen since the Maoist era.
Amnesty’s report interviewed several former detainees who said they were put in shackles, tortured, and made to sing political songs and learn about the Communist Party.
The testimony tallies with evidence gathered by foreign reporters and rights groups in the past year.
Amnesty also called on governments around the world to hold Beijing to account for “the nightmare” unfolding in Xinjiang.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced “awful abuses” of Uighur Muslims detained in re-education camps.
“Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uighurs are held against their will in so-called re-education camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses,” Pompeo said in a speech.
However Pakistan, China’s biggest Muslim ally, quickly denied reports last week that it had criticized Beijing — which is pouring billions in infrastructure investment into the country — over the issue.
Religious affairs minister Noorul Haq Qadri told AFP China has agreed to exchange delegations of religious students to help promote “harmony” between Muslims and Chinese authorities.
China’s top leaders recently called for religious practices to be brought in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture, sparking concern among rights groups.
Earlier this month draft regulations suggested Beijing was considering restrictions on religious content online, such as images of people praying or chanting.
State supervision of religion has increased in a bid to “block extremism,” and authorities have removed Islamic symbols such as crescents from public spaces in areas with significant Muslim populations.
Christians have also been targeted in crackdowns, with a prominent Beijing “underground” church shuttered by authorities earlier this month. Churches in central Henan province have seen their crosses torn down and followers harassed.