Sunday, April 22, 2012

How Ethiopia's Plantations are Killing Vital Waterway

By Survival International, April 10, 2012 New photographic evidence proves that Ethiopia's controversial plantations scheme is killing the Lower Omo River, on which the government is building a massive hydro-electric dam to divert the natural flow to feed the plantations. New photographic evidence proves Ethiopia's controversial plantations scheme is killing the Lower Omo River, a lifeline for 100,000 tribal people. The River, in south west Ethiopia, is home to eight different tribes whose population is about 200,000, and who have lived there for centuries. However, the future of these tribes lies in the balance, as a massive hydro-electric dam, Gibe III, is under construction on the Omo. The Omo River downstream from the notorious Gibe III dam is now being diverted into a newly-dug irrigation canal, one of several which will feed a massively ambitious plantations scheme for state and private investors. These man-made canals are key to Ethiopia’s plantations plan, which is already having a hugely negative impact on UNESCO’s Lower Omo World Heritage Site. Bulldozers are flattening land near the heritage site, destroying villages and forcing local communities to give up their pastoral way of life. The government has revealed virtually nothing about the plantations program, but an official map obtained by Survival International shows the enormous scope of the project. One local person, speaking to a Survival International’s researcher who recently visited the area, said, “I’ve never seen the river this low. During the dry season, like it is now, you can usually cross by foot, and water reaches your knees. Now I could cross without my feet getting wet.” The Gibe III dam, 200 kms upstream, will interrupt the river’s natural flow and deprive thousands of tribes people of their most valuable agricultural land by stopping the annual flood. The flooding of the Omo River feeds the rich biodiversity of the region and ensures tribes such as the Bodi, Mursi and Dassanach can feed their cattle and produce beans and cereals in the fertile silt left behind. There was a flood last year, but most Bodi and Mursi were not able to use it for cultivation because of the irrigation project. There will be no flood this year, as the dam reservoir starts to fill, nor in succeeding years. The people have been told they will be given food aid in compensation. Indigenous communities are also suffering from violent human rights abuses, as plans are implemented forcibly to resettle those who stand in the way of the government’s plans, and to take away their cattle. Fear is growing as violence becomes commonplace and reports of beatings, rapes and arrests spread among tribes close to the Omo River. As recently as January 2012, Survival International received reports of three Bodi men being beaten to death in an Ethiopian jail. The government is also ordering families to sell their livestock. One man told Survival International, “My money is my cattle. My bank account is my cattle.” Two UN bodies have already asked Ethiopia to provide evidence that tribes are being consulted, and that current developments are not damaging the area’s cultural and natural heritage. However, Ethiopia has ignored such calls. Infact, Kenya has recently finalized a deal, which will see it importing electricity generated from the Gibe III dam. Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said on March 28, “Ethiopia’s government is destroying the Lower Omo Valley and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of indigenous people – all in the name of ‘development’. However the human cost cannot be ignored. Re-directing a water lifeline is irresponsible and reckless.” Source