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Ethiopia’s mega Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower project makes a headway
Major fundings have been approved for the mega project
The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently accepted the Environment and Social Impact Assessment of Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower project in Ethiopia; a move that throws more light on the much debated mega power project.

In a recent interview, AfDB’s director in charge of infrastructure, Mr Gilbert Mbesherubusa, told the Kenyan Business Daily that the bank has been conducting technical, economic and financial assessments on the Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower project to enable works to begin by the end of the year. This comes after the approval of the project’s most debated environment and social impact assessment.

Commenting on the AfDB move, Mehret Debebe Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) said, “If the financial institutions evaluated the impact assessment with independent experts, we have no doubt over ours (...) the AfDB reached this decision after making its evaluation with independent experts”.

Challenge

According to Mehret, the European Investment Bank also agreed last week to evaluate the Environment and Social Impact of the project with independent experts. The EEPCo chief said that he is so far "very confident about our impact assessment" although "environmental activist groups" still posed a "challenge".

The hydropower plant, which is being constructed in the Welyeta Zone of Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region, will generate 1,870 megawatts of electricity upon completion. The source of the hydropower plant, the Omo River, flows into Lake Turkana in neighboring Kenya.

Environmental activist groups have claimed that the project will adversely impact the livelihood of the surrounding communities, while other militants have embarked on dissuasive strategies including lobbying to prevent funding for the project. According to the militants the dam will minimize the volume of water that enters Lake Turkana.

Kenya: Joint Committee

Considering the importance of the dam on Kenyan communities, a Kenyan fact finding delegation on the project, led by Mr John Nyaoro, water ministry director in charge of water services, two weeks ago visited the project and held talks with top Ethiopian officials. After their deliberations, the delegation returned convinced about the importance of the power project to Kenya itself.

However, a proposal to form a joint committee between the two governments to oversee execution of the project was rejected by the Ethiopian government.

Sovereignty

In a press conference last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi explained that the Kenyans do not doubt the importance of the power project, but rather fear a possible redirection of the river for irrigation purposes, which is why they suggested of a joint committee. According to the PM, Ethiopia is a sovereign country and is under no obligation tp bow to their proposal.

The AfDB fully accepted the project that led to the evaluation of the financial and technical aspects of the project only two weeks after the delegation visited Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian government needs about 1.5 billion Euros to fully complete the Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower project. The AfDB is expected to direct a 250 million Euro fund to the electro-mechanical part of the project according to the government project proposal, the Italian government is expected to cover a similar amount directed towards the main construction work, while the European Investment Bank is expected to make 100 million Euros available. Other funds are yet to be confirmed by the government of Ethiopia.


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