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The Guardian: The Ethiopian boomtown that welcomes water firms but leaves locals thirsty March 9, 2017

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Business in the Sululta district of Ethiopia’s Oromia region is burgeoning. So why, despite abundant rainfall, does half the population have no access to fresh water?

People in Sululta queue for tap water
People in Sululta queue for tap water. The local government has failed to provide water for most households in the area. Photograph: William Davison

Towards the end of the day at the Abyssinia Springs bottled water factory near Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, workers hose down the car park liberally. Outside the gates, residents of the Sululta area trudge along the road with empty yellow jerrycans that they will fill from muddy wells and water points.

Over the past decade, the town in Oromia region has attracted plenty of investment. A Chinese tannery, steel mills, water factories and hotels have sprung up.

The boom has also lured workers for the building sites that litter the district with piles of rubble, electric cables, and eucalyptus tree trunks used for scaffolding.

Officials appointed last year amid a wave of unrest admit that they do not know the exact size of Sululta’s population. The local government has failed to keep up with the town’s chaotic growth over the past decade, which has contributed to anti-government sentiment.

Although investing in water infrastructure is challenging for a poor country, funding is not the problem in relatively wealthy Sululta, according to Messay. Instead, he believes corrupt management of the land rush, a lack of demand on investors to protect the environment, and the government’s inadequate planning and data collection have contributed to the crisis.

“When the public burned the investments down, it was not that they wanted to damage them. It was our problem in managing them,” says Messay.

Initially peaceful, the protests that began in Oromia in November 2015evolved into the angry ransacking of government offices and businesses after security forces used lethal force to disperse crowds. Human rights groups estimate that up to 600 people were killed across the country.

Since then, Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which controls all the legislative seats in a de facto one-party state, has embarked on what it calls a process of “deep reform” to try to address governance failings.

For years, government officials and their development partners have claimed that funds were spent efficiently on public services for the estimated 103 million people in Africa’s second-most populous nation, citing improvements in socioeconomic indicators such as maternal mortality and access to potable water.

People in Yubdo village, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, mourn the death of Dinka Chala in December 2015
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People in Yubdo village, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, mourn the death of Dinka Chala in December 2015. Photograph: Zacharias Abubeker/AFP/Getty Images

In 2014 – the latest year for which data is available – the Ethiopian government received $3.6 bn (£3bn) in aid, while the government budget was $9bn, which included donor funding. Most cash for regional governments comes from federal transfers. However, the impressive statistics rattled off at development conferences are of little comfort to low-income workers in Sululta, who say they feel ignored by a government that has licensed more than five plants for bottled water while failing to dig enough wells or build pipes to houses. According to WaterAid, 42 million Ethiopians lack access to safe water.

Worku Deme, 40, who delivers cement blocks around Sululta, says the community wrote to government offices two years ago asking for action on water supply. But nothing has changed, he says, beyond the faces of the administrators who ask people to be patient.

“There is no one to care about us,” says Deme, as a woman walks past with a jerrycan strapped to her back.

The situation is especially galling for Sululta because the town is situated in the highlands, where rainfall is abundant for about four months of the year.

The national government, which likes to describe Ethiopia as the “water tower of Africa”, is investing heavily in hydropower, including the continent’s largest dam, in the Nile basin. However, past failures to tap water resources in the rain-deprived east of the country contributed to a fifth of the population needing aid during a drought that began in 2015, killing livestock and causing crops to wither.

In Suluta, there has been investment in boreholes and pumps, but mostly by the private sector. Abyssinia Springs, in which Nestlé Waters bought a majority stakelast year, pumps 50,000 litres an hour, which means its capacity is more than half that of the local government.

“There’s water everywhere. The only problem is the government’s willingness,” says a manager at another company, Classy Water, who did not give his name.

Many non-water businesses have dug their own wells.

According to Getachew Teklemariam, a former government economic planner, there has been a lack of water infrastructure planning that takes into account demographic and economic changes across Ethiopia. Instead, development has been piecemeal and household water supply numbers are sometimes inflated by officials for political gain. “With a lack of insight into the reality on the ground, most efforts at improving infrastructure have been uncoordinated and wasteful,” he says.

In January 2016, the government shelved its “integrated development plan” to expand Addis Ababa into surrounding Oromia areas following protests and criticism that the plan would pave the way for more evictions of Oromo farmers.

Today, locals in Sululta travel on public transport to queue for water at a tap built by the Sudanese-owned Nile Petroleum, or pay others to do so. At the end of the town, which mostly lies along one main road, residents collect water from a faucet provided by China-Africa Overseas Leather Products. But the tannery has been accused of polluting water supplies, and in January 2016 protesters invaded the premises. Last month, it was a base for about 50 Ethiopian soldiers monitoring the security situation.

Messay, a mechanical engineer who has worked in the public water sector for a decade, says the government has erred by placing only minimal demands on investors in its eagerness to create jobs: “They [the leather company] drop their waste downstream. It is killing the farmers’ cattle, it’s making the fertility of the soil deplete.” Managers from the firm did not respond to requests for comment.

Women collect water from a muddy well in Sululta town in Ethiopia
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Women collect water from a muddy well in Sululta town in Ethiopia, where the local government has failed to provide water for most households. Photograph: William Davison

Messay appears committed to solving the water problem but realistic. He is critical of property investors from the capital who, he claims, seized plots illegally, and of the “corrupt” land administrators who facilitated the town’s chaotic growth. “You expect them to be more responsible, as they are from a big city,” says Messay of the investors.

Turkish contractors are digging a borehole to increase the water supply, which Messay believes might be meeting half the demand.

Nestlé Waters says it wants to help and is funding Addis Ababa University experts to study the environmental and socio-economic situation of the area. The study might feed into another “integrated” plan and possibly an effort to turn Sululta into an “eco city”. But Messay is sceptical as to whether the corporation’s public interest is genuine, noting that there were similar noises from Abyssinia Springs when the water plant was built about seven years ago.


 

Ethiopia: The Water Grabbing Dam, Ecological Destruction, Social Devastation, Hunger And Conflicts January 13, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Access to water, Africa, African Poor, Water Grabs.
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Ethiopia dam will turn Lake Turkana into ‘endless battlefield’, locals warn

John Vidal, The Guardian

Ethiopia dam will turn Lake Turkana into ‘endless battlefield’, locals warn
Kenyans near world’s largest desert lake predict conflict, hunger and cultural devastation when hydroelectric project is completed.

Turkana man

The Turkana are traditionally nomadic pastoralists, but they have seen the pasture that they need to feed their herds suffer from recurring droughts and many have turned to fishing. However, Lake Turkana is overfished, and scarcity of food and pastureland is fuelling long-standing conflict with Ethiopian indigenous Dhaasanac, who have seen grazing grounds squeezed by large-scale government agricultural schemes in southern Ethiopia.
Locals fear the completion of the Gibe III dam could exacerbate tension in the region between Kenyans and Ethiopians.

People living near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya have little understanding that the fresh water essential to their development is likely to dry up when a huge hydoelectric dam in neighbouring Ethiopia is completed.

Fishermen, farmers, teachers and others living near the world’s largest desert lake say Turkana’s volume has reduced significantly over the past 30 years because of higher temperatures and changing weather patterns.

But few of the 100 people interviewed by a Kenyan researcher for International Rivers watchdog said they had been consulted or warned what could happen when the reservoir of the Gibe III dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is completely filled in about three years’ time. The $1.8bn construction project, which is 90% complete, will start limited power generation in June.

The downstream impact of the dam is hotly contested. Some hydrologists have predicted that Ethiopia’s expansion of water-intensive sugar and cotton plantations on the Omo river, which the Gibe 111 dam allows, could reduce flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70%. This would kill ecosystems and greatly reduce the water level of the lake.

This, says International Rivers, could make the difference between marginal livelihoods and famine for the tens of thousands of already vulnerable people who depend on the lake for their livelihoods.

When told of the possible impact of the project, ethnic groups and communities near the lake predicted widespread conflict, hunger and cultural devastation. “If the Gibe III dam is constructed, the lake will dry up and this will lead to desertification and there will be depletion of resources: there will be no fish, no farming, and low humidity [and less rain]. If that is the case, the community will be finished,” said Sylvester Ekariman, chairman of the council of elders in Kakalel pastoral village.

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. But 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 neighbouring Kenya, who rely on the river for their livelihood.

Gibe

Currently, the lake, which could split into two if incoming water is restricted, helps to prevent conflict between communities in Ethiopia and Kenya, and locally between the Turkanas and the Rendille ethnic groups, who live on opposite sides of the lake. If the lake shrinks, conflict is much more likely, says the report.

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” said Joseph Atach, an assistant chief at Kanamkuny village.

Helen Alogita, a seed seller, told researcher Narissa Allibhai that she feared the people living on the other side of the lake. “They will come and kill us and that will bring about enmity among us as we turn on each other due to hunger. Find the person [building the dam] and ask them where they expect our communities to go? Where are our Kenyan leaders? If famine and hunger will make us die of starvation, where will they get votes from?”

Fisherman Dennis Epem said: “When the lake goes back, our enemies, which are the people of Ethiopia, will be reaching here. They have weapons, but we don’t have weapons. How will we defend ourselves when the people of Ethiopia cross? This lake is our security.”

Many of the people interviewed in the 14 communities said they were angry that an Ethiopian dam should affect Kenyans. “Not a single country [should] harm the other one by taking its waters without discussing with the other countries, because water is life. It should not be decided by one country. Who is funding these Gibes? They should withdraw their assistance or the loans they are giving,” the researcher was told.

Children sitting on the Omo River bank which is slightly cracked due to the lowering of water level. Gibe III Dam, Africa’s Tallest Dam with installed capacity of 1870 MW which is under construction, is said to impact 500,000 Ethiopians and Kenyans relying their lives on Omo River and Lake Turkana. The lowering of water level and the change of water salinity may especially impact aboriginal tribes who already live in severe drought and poverty, and may end the fragile peace between tribes.
“Awareness of the dam’s impacts and development process is extremely low,” said Allibhai. “A majority of interviewees were extremely uninformed. Any consultations with local communities were either minimal or non-existent. People in the villages had either heard about the dam only through local NGO Friends of Lake Turkana’s awareness-raising or through rumours; misinformation was rampant.

“Those in the towns were slightly more informed, especially the few with access to the internet – but even so, not one interviewee was sure of the details of the upstream developments, agreements and progress,” she said.

“All community members are opposed to the dam and irrigated plantations, as it will deprive them of their livelihoods and lead to increased famine, conflict and death. Their messages to the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments and the international community reflect their despair, and feelings of helplessness, anger and betrayal.”

Many older people said the developments in Ethiopia could tip the region into a crisis because climate change had made them more vulnerable. The lake was already much smaller than it was 30 years ago and villages like Impressa Beach, Lokitoenyala and Nachukui used to be under water, said locals. Rains are unpredictable and temperatures and wind have increased.

“These water grabs will disrupt fisheries and destroy other ecosystems upon which local people depend,” said Lori Pottinger, International Rivers’ Africa campaigner. “Local people have not been consulted about the project nor informed about its impacts on their lives.”

Both the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have strongly backed the dam, which they maintain will increase development by providing more electricity.

The World Bank, which has been strongly criticised for funding developments that force evictions, is supporting the transmission line from the dam to Kenyan cities.

The Ethiopian government this week strongly rejected claims that the dam would harm Lake Turkana. A spokeswoman said: “The dam will provide a regular flow of water to Lake Turkana, which gives the possibility of providing a water supply throughout the year, whereas the lake is currently short of water in the dry season. The regular flow of water will also improve the aquatic life of Lake Turkana, providing a better livelihood for people living round the lake.

“The project … is instrumental in forging regional integration – the Gibe III dam will have a role in the realisation of close economic cooperation between Ethiopia, Kenya and the countries beyond. Kenya [will] obtain more than 300MW of electricity from Ethiopia.

“Campaigners are consciously trying to distort all these positive developments … in order to incite misunderstanding between the fraternal countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.” she said.

The Kenyan government was invited to respond to the report but has so far declined.

Suggestions for action by the communities ranged from using force to stop the dam, persuading the the Kenyan government to stand up for the people of Turkana and Marsabit, pressing for donors to withdraw funding and requesting compensation.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jan/13/ethiopia-gibe-iii-dam-kenya