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Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia

Aboriginal communities in the Omo valley are facing the threat of starvation in the name of sustainable development and clean energy


On December 17, 2016, Ethiopia inaugurated Gibe III dam, under the aegis of the country’s prime minister, the Italian construction company Salini Impregilo’s chief executive, the Ethiopian Electric Power chief executive, among other investors [1]. According to the project promoters, the dam is going to boost Ethiopian economy and bring prosperity to the country.   But one should question the word ‘prosperity’ after reading about the episodes of violence reported by Oakland Institute. [7] Some 50 members of the Suri tribe in the Omo were massacred by Ethiopian government soldiers who were forcing them to move from their land. This is just an indicative episode of a long period of controversial practices around the construction works in the UNESCO World Heritage site Omo valley. In fact, the consequences of the impacts on the river ecosystem and its inhabitants downstream of the dam has called the attention of NGOs fighting for human rights and environmental justice protection internationally [2][3][4]. The Gilgel Gibe III dam is located about 62 km west of Sodo in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region. It is the third largest hydroelectric plant in Africa with a power output of about 1870 Megawatt (MW), and part of a series of facilities in cascade, after the existing Gibe I (184MW) and Gibe II (420MW), as well as the planned Gibe IV (1472 MW) and Gibe V (560 MW) dams. Together with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (6000 MW, the largest in Africa), the structures form part of energetic strategy included in the ‘Growth and Transformation Plan’ (GTP) of the African federal republic, a five-year development plan which guiding end is ‘eradication of poverty and dependence on food aid in a shorter period of time’ [5]. But the fulfillment of such objective cannot avoid dealing with the about 700,000 inhabitants around the valley and Lake Turkana, which are characterized by a multiplicity of ecosystems, cultures and languages. These tribal communities belong to at least 16 distinct ethnic groups which survival depends on traditional farming, forestry, breeding, herding and fishing. Salini is proud to declare that the intervention ‘offers benefits for local communities’, enabling the development of fisheries, preventing the occurrence of floods, and preserving the traditional recess agriculture [8]. But the NGO Survival International has a different take on the intervention, enough to report to OECD for human rights violation, on behalf of tribal people and indigenous communities of lower Omo valley and of Lake Turkana in Kenya [2].  After a fieldwork on the Lower Omo, in April 2012 Survival International filled a petition against the Ethiopian Government through the African Charter of Human and Peoples Right (ACHPR). In the petition, the NGO claims that Salini did not respect some of the ACHPR’s articles. According to them, Salini violated i) the right of people’s self-determination, as the communities were not asked to consent to or even consulted about the project before it began; ii) the right of free disposal of people’s wealth and natural resources, as local populations have lost or are likely to lose the vital means of subsistence previously guaranteed by the annual floods of River Omo; iii) people’s right of choose their development paths, as no proper impact assessment was produced. These actions go against also to the principles set within the UN Global Compact, which Salini subscribed in April 2013.   At the stage of project design, an impact assessment was indeed produced. The Italian consultancies CESI and Agriconsulting S.p.A., in association with MDI Consulting Engineers of Ethiopia, were charged with the responsibility of preparing the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) in 2008. But The Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG) promptly responded with a counter-assessment which is deeply critic of the official ESIA [6]. They invalidate the document as a whole, as it “rests on a series of faulty premises and that it is further compromised by pervasive omissions, distortions and obfuscations”. While in the endorsed ESIA the Gibe III dam “will not cause significant harm” downstream, the ARWG report individuates a high risk for the ecosystems and communities that depend on the ‘traditional’ water flow of the Omo river.  Among the expected key effects, they individuate i) a radical decline of fish productivity in Lake Turkana due to the reduced inflow; ii) risk of increased seismic activity and landslide potential in the region; iii) major transboundary ecological degradation of the Omo delta shared between Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan; iv) elimination of a consistent part of riverine forest and woodland due to 50 to 60% reduction of river flow volume; v) recession of cultivation for indigenous communities; vi) land expropriation; vii) obfuscation, distortion and ‘fabrication’ of public consultation and of flood simulation data. But Salini did not act alone. After the ‘sisters’ Grand Renaissance Dam, Gibel I and II dams, the governmental company Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) contracted Salini for Gibe III through directed negotiation, at the time when the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs was considering financing the project with up to 250 million Euro [9]. After that both the European Investment Bank and World Bank decided not to, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) stepped forward and approved a loan for a US$500 million in August 2010 [10].  At the same time, the Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co., Ltd was contracted for the transmission line to Addis Ababa, being backed up by the Exim Bank of China. Finally, in July 2012 the World Bank financed USD$684 million the high voltage direct current transmission line between Ethiopia and Kenya [11]. No official statements on the conflict are reported in the outcome documents of the United Nations Conference on “financing for development” held from July 13 to 16 in Addis Ababa. Meanwhile, the Italian public insurer SACE already declared willing to cover a significant portion of the funding needed to develop the brand new Gibe IV.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia
State or province:Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region
Location of conflict:between Wolayita and Dawro Zones
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

[8] The project is located on the Omo River, approximately 300 Km south-west of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. It comprises an RCC dam and an open-air powerhouse with 10 Francis turbines that offer an overall installed power of 1,870 MW and a generation capacity of 6,500 GWh/year. It also includes 3 diversion tunnels and 2 twin pumping tunnels, 2 intake structures, 2 horizontal tunnels, 4 vertical wells and 2 distributors. The dam measures 250 m in height. At the moment, it is the world's highest RCC dam. The reservoir covers a surface area of approximately 200 m2 and a storage capacity of 14,000 x 106 m3

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Project area:3,415
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,800,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:500,000
Company names or state enterprises:Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) from Ethiopia
Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co., Ltd from China
Salini Impregilo from Italy
Relevant government actors:Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
International and Finance InstitutionsOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Development Assistance Group (DAG) from Ethiopia
International Finance Corporation (of World Bank) (IFC)
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) from China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Survival International
African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR)
International Rivers
Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG)
A Sud Onlus
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
International scientists
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Infectious diseases, Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
hunger, violent repression of protests
Proposal and development of alternatives:An adequate compensation of affected populations and restoration of the region and recognition by international institutions (UN, OECD,…) of the inappropriateness of the project.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:It is unlikely that the government concede any appropriate compensation or ecological restoration measures. We have to wait OECD to express an opinion on the case. The Gibe IV and Gibe V project are under approval.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Franchi, G., Manes, L., 2016. What is there to hide in the Omo valley? The shadowy Italian system in Ethiopia. Re:Commons

[5] Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2010. “Growth and Transformation Plan”

[6] Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG), 2009. A Commentary on the Environmental, Socioeconomic and Human Rights Impacts of the Proposed Gibe III Dam in the Lower Omo River Basin of Ethiopia

[7] The Oakland Institute, 2014. Engineering Ethnic Conflict. The toll of Ethiopia's plantation development on the Suri people.
[click to view]

[9] International Rivers, 2009. Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 dam. Sowing Hunger and Conflict

[12] Tebbs E., Avery S., Chadwick A. (2019). Satellite remote sensing reveals impacts from dam-associated hydrological changes on chlorophyll-a in the world's largest desert lake. King's College London

[16] Benedikt Kamski (2016). The Kuraz Sugar Development Project (KSDP) in Ethiopia: between 'sweet visions' and mounting challenges. Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut
[click to view]

[17] Claudia J. Carr (2017). River Basin Development and Human Rights in Eastern Africa - A Policy Crossroads

[1] Salini Impregilo Website, 2016. Ethiopia inaugurates tallest RCC dam in world built by Salini Impregilo. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[2] OECD Watch, 2016. Survival International vs Salini Impregilo. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[3] International Rivers. Gibe III dam, Ethiopia. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[8] Salini Impregilo Website, 2016. Gibe III Hydroelectric project. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[10] International Rivers, 2010. Chinese Loan Underwrites Lake Turkana Destruction. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[11] The World Bank, 2017. AFCC2/RI-The Eastern Electricity Highway Project under the First Phase of the Eastern Africa Power Integration Program. Accessed: 8th February 2017
[click to view]

[13] Sean Avery (2018). How Ethiopia and Kenya have put a world heritage site in danger. The Conversation
[click to view]

[14] World Heritage Centre Committee (2019). Lake Turkana National Parks. UNESCO
[click to view]

[15] Sean Avery (2017). Fears over Ethiopian dam’s costly impact on environment, people. The Conversation
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:AB - ICTA/UAB
Last update18/09/2020
Conflict ID:2625
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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