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Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia


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.

Update: Evidently, four years after the completion of Gilgel Gibe III dam various predicted negative outcomes became reality. Satellite remote sensing revealed the first devastating dam-associated impacts on the hydrology of the world’s largest desert lake Turkana [12]. Gibe III dam altered the magnitude and seasonality of the Omo River flood pulse tremendously, since more than 80% of the lake’s freshwater inflow originates from the river [13]. The reduced water resources at the lake further increased the vulnerability by diminishing the food security of the regional populations. The World Heritage Centre Committee warns that the fish population has already been adversely affected. Consequently, the Committee referred to the transboundary basin Gibe III dam as a threat toward the Lake of Turkana, which is now declared to be a world heritage site in danger [14]. In addition, Gibe III dam’s river regulation enabled the Ethiopian Governments plan to develop large-scale irrigation plantations. 100,000 hectares within the Omo Basin have been transformed into water intensive sugar plantations and downstream, 50,000 hectares have been allocated to a foreign cotton plantation company [15]. The state-owned Kuraz Sugar Development Project (KDSP) in an example of failure in terms of unreasonable economic returns and the threat posed to downstream local livelihoods, which are deprived of their central source [16]. These developments go in hand with the agrarian-industrial transformation in Ethiopia steering toward a model of greater capitalization. The added graphs depict the overall irreversible losses in terms of natural resources, as well as the correlation to the construction of the controversial Gibe III dam [17].


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:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
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

The construction companies started works of river diversion in 2009 and concrete (RCC) laying activities began in 2011. The dam's pre-impounding operations were carried out in August 2014, while the final impounding phase was completed during the first months of 2015. An RCC-laying World Record was set between December 11 and 12, 2014. By June 2015, six million cubic meters of RCC had already been laid and one billion cubic meters of water had collected in the reservoir formed by the dam.

The Gibe III scheme, from the root of its reservoir to its tailrace outfall, extends over a corridor some 155km long. Administratively, the reservoir stretches over five zones and twelve weredas. The downstream area extends from the dam site up to Lake Turkana. Omo River below the Gibe III dam traverses through the four weredas of South Omo Zone. The approximate centroid of the

project area lies at 757,225 North and 312,293 East.

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.

[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

[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

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

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

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

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

[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

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

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

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

Meta information

Contributor:AB - ICTA/UAB
Last update18/09/2020
Conflict ID:2625



Gibe III dam. From Salini Impregilo Website, 2017


Hamar children with the body painted with white ash, Omo valley, Ethiopia. Gibe III dam will destroy their livelihood.

© Magda Rakita/Survival

Aboriginal Women from Omo Valley

© Terry Hughes/Survival International

Gibe III dam and its reservoir

Salini Impregilo Website, 2017

Cattle in Omo Valley, source of livelihood for its tribes

Credits: International Rivers

Scheme of Omo river basin area and its dams

Credits: International Rivers, 2011.