Kenya/Ethiopia: Rights Body Urges World Bank to Balance Rights and Development
By Henry Neondo
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the World Bank to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment are rigorously protected before funding the Kenya-Ethiopia power project.
Singling out the Gibe III dam project in Ethiopia, the HRW said the 1,000-kilometer power transmission line connecting Kenya to a controversial dam in Ethiopia has not factored the World Bank’s social and environment safeguard policies designed to prevent and mitigate undue harm.
“The World Bank shouldn’t think that it’s fine to fund a transmission line while closing its eyes to abuses at the power source,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch in a letter to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “The rights of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people threatened by the Gibe III dam need to be protected.”
The sources include the Gibe III hydroelectric dam in southern Ethiopia, which is scheduled to start operating in 2014. The dam has been linked to serious human rights abuses and environmental concerns.
The Ethiopian government is going to use power from Gibe III on the Omo River to supply electricity for 245,000 hectares of state-run irrigated sugar plantations and other projects.
The sugar plantations are already having serious consequences for the 200,000 indigenous residents of the Lower Omo including the loss of grazing land and cultivation sites, and forced resettlement into villages. These residents, from eight distinct groups, rely on the 760-kilometer-long Omo River for growing crops and replenishing grazing lands during annual flooding.
The dam and related agricultural plans are also likely to dramatically decrease water levels in Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which receives 90 percent of its water from the Omo River, further increasing competition over scarce resources for the additional 300,000 indigenous people who live around Lake Turkana.
Human Rights Watch has documented abusive relocations of indigenous peoples linked to the creation of the sugar plantations along the Omo River.
State security forces have used intimidation, assaults and arbitrary arrests when people questioned the relocations or refused to move.
The United Nations and others have also raised serious environmental concerns about the dam. In 1980 the Lower Omo Valley was named a World Heritage site by the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because of its special cultural and physical significance.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has called on Ethiopia to suspend construction of the dam until its adverse impacts on the environment have been properly studied and mitigated.
The World Bank requires that projects it funds follow its policies and procedures to mitigate adverse environmental and social impacts. If a project will result in the loss of livelihood, the bank requires effective consultation with the affected people, adequately compensating them for their losses, and ensuring that they can at least maintain their previous living standards under the new circumstances.
When indigenous people are involved, the bank’s policy requires additional procedures to ensure that the consultation, compensation and relocation process respects the cultural and physical needs of the affected community.