June 25, 2014

Aid donors announce investigation into tribal evictions in Ethiopia

Bulldozers clearing Mursi land in Mago National Park, where communities are being evicted from their land to make way for sugar plantations.

Bulldozers clearing Mursi land in Mago National Park, where communities are being evicted from their land to make way for sugar plantations.
© E. Lafforgue/Survival

Representatives of some of Ethiopia’s biggest aid donors have announced that they will send a team to the southwest of the country to investigate persistent reports of human rights abuses amongst the tribes living there.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has exposed how thetribal people of the Lower Omo Valley are being persecuted and harassed to force them off their land to make way for cotton, oil palm and sugar cane plantations.

Many other organizations have published similar reports.

The plantations are made possible by the Gibe III hydroelectric dam, which is itself the subject of huge controversy.

The dam, which is nearing completion, will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of 500,000 tribal people, including those living around Kenya’s Lake Turkana.

It is also projected to have catastrophic environmental consequences for the region, which is home to renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites on both sides of the border.

Survival and other NGOs have repeatedly denounced the eviction of hundreds of Bodi and Kwegu and continue to receive reports that people are being intimidated into leaving their lands for resettlement camps.

Daasanach are being forced off their land to make way for infrastructure development such as this giant pump at Omorate, which will facilitate irrigation of the plantations.

Daasanach are being forced off their land to make way for infrastructure development such as this giant pump at Omorate, which will facilitate irrigation of the plantations.
© E. Lafforgue/Survival

The Ethiopian government has not sought or obtained the indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent to move from their lands, in breach of the guidelines for resettlement drawn up by the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a consortium of the largest donors to Ethiopia, including the US, the UK, Germany and the World Bank.

DAG provides significant financial assistance to the local administration responsible for the forced evictions.

DAG has decided to return to the Lower Omo later this year to investigate the situation, even though the evictions continue regardless of past donor visits, the findings of which have often not been published.

This decision follows mounting worldwide concerns. European parliamentarians from Italy,Germany and the UK have asked questions in the European Parliament, and MPs in the UK and Germany have raised their concerns with various ministries. Parliamentary questions have also been tabled in the UK.

In February the US Congress ruled that US taxpayers’ money not be used to fund forced resettlements in Lower Omo.

Following a lawsuit brought by Friends of Lake Turkana, the Kenyan courts have ruled that the Kenyan government must release all information about the deals it has made with Ethiopia about buying electricity generated by the Gibe III dam.

Earlier this year, a UNESCO report recommended that Lake Turkana be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.


May 17, 2014

Ethiopia: UNESCO asks Ethiopia to suspend the construction of Gibe III Dam

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Ethiopia: UNESCO asks Ethiopia to suspend the construction of Gibe III Dam

 A new “State of Conservation” report by UNESCO recommends the World Heritage Committee inscribe Lake Turkana on the List of World Heritage in Danger. They ask Ethiopia to not fill the dam and to halt the construction of the large scale irrigation projects until a comprehensive social and enviro study of the developments is completed and appropriate mitigation measures are identified to guarantee sufficient inflow of water to Lake Turkana”

On 31 January 2014, the State Party of Kenya submitted a short progress report, which is available at list/801/documents.

The report refers to a high-level meeting which took place in January 2014 between the States Parties of Kenya and Ethiopia to discuss the modalities of sharing information and preparing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) relating to developments on the Omo River in Ethiopia. It was agreed that:

The State Party of Ethiopia would provide all necessary background information concerning developments on the Omo River which might impact the OUV of the property, for study by the State Party of Kenya (February-April 2014); A follow-up meeting will be held in May 2014 to discuss issues, decide on a course of action and engage a multi-disciplinary team of consultants to carry out a SEA of the Lake Turkana Basin, identifying appropriate mitigation measures to ensure maintenance of the OUV of the property; At the time of the above-mentioned meeting in May 2014 representatives of the State Party of Kenya will be invited to visit the site of the Gibe III dam; A draft of the state of conservation report will be completed by December 2014 and finalised in time for submission by the State Party of Kenya by 1 February 2015.

The State Party of Ethiopia did not invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to review the impacts of the Gibe III dam and related developments as previously requested by the Committee at its 35th, 36th and 37th sessions.

Analysis and Conclusion

Initial bilateral discussions have been held between the States Parties of Kenya and Ethiopia and it is recommended that the Committee welcome this development. While the reports states that the Strategic Environmental Assessment of developments in the Omo River basin and their impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property were discussed, the report provides no clear timeline for the preparation of this study.

The construction of the Gibe III dam and development of large-scale irrigation schemes in the lower Omo Valley seem to have continued uninterrupted despite the Committee’s earlier requests to the State Party of Ethiopia to suspend developments until the SEA had been completed and to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission. It should be recalled that the Committee decided not to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger on two previous occasions, to allow the mission to take place and consider its findings, and before the likely severe ecological and social consequences for Lake Turkana, the property, and the livelihoods of surrounding communities have been adequately considered in the planned SEA

News reports, which indicate that the filling of the reservoir is scheduled to commence this year, are noted. A letter was sent to the State Party of Ethiopia on 31 March 2014 to verify this information but at the time of writing this report no reply was received. In addition, it should be recalled that ongoing development of large-scale irrigation schemes could significantly amplify the severe impacts of filling the reservoir, as these would further reduce the flow of water to the lake. The most important one, Kuraz Sugar Scheme is developed by the state-owned Ethiopian Sugar Corporation. According to the website of the Corporation, 175000 ha of sugar cane will be planted and the irrigation of these fields will be ensured through a water diverting scheme from the Omo River.

Recent publicly available satellite imagery of the lower Omo valley clearly shows newly-built irrigation channels and large-scale agricultural development.

A number of new studies confirm the likely hydrological and other changes that dam filling and irrigation schemes will cause. According to these studies, the filling of the dam will result in a drop of the water level of the lake of 2 m. The Kuraz Sugar Scheme could deprive Lake Turkana of 50% of its water inflow, which experts consider would result in a lowering of the lake level by an estimated 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km. The ambitious agricultural development plan for the lower Omo, if fully implemented, could cause the waters of the Omo River to no longer be able to replenish Lake Turkana at all, and undoubtedly lead to the loss of the OUV of the property, and have detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of local communities who depend on the lake.

In view of the severity of the potential impacts, and the immediacy of the threat, with the imminent filling of the dam and the diversion of water for the irrigation schemes, it is recommended that the Committee immediately inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

April 7, 2014

20 years after Rwanda – Ethiopia’s ‘slow genocide’ in the Omo Valley

A ‘slow genocide’ is unfolding in Ethiopia – one driven by greed rather than hatred. With Chinese and World Bank finance, massive dams and plantations are robbing the Omo Valley’s 500,000 indigenous people of their land and water. The UK ‘sees no evil’.

If current plans to create new plantations continue to move forward, Lake Turkana could drop as much as 16 to 22 meters.

New satellite imagery shows extensive clearance of land used by indigenous groups to make way for state-run sugar plantations in Ethiopia‘s Lower Omo Valley.

According to Human Rights Watch and International Rivers, virtually all of the traditional lands of the 7,000-member Bodi indigenous group have been cleared in the last 15 months, without adequate consultation or compensation. HRW has also documented the forced resettlement of some indigenous people in the area.

The land clearing is part of a broader Ethiopian government development scheme in the Omo Valley – a United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site -including dam construction, sugar plantations, and commercial agriculture.

500,000 indigenous people left without water

The project will consume the vast majority of the water in the Omo River basin, potentially devastating the livelihoods of the 500,000 indigenous people in Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya who directly or indirectly rely on the Omo’s waters for their livelihoods.

“Ethiopia can develop its land and resources but it shouldn’t run roughshod over the rights of its indigenous communities“, said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The people who rely on the land for their livelihoods have the right to compensation and the right to reject plans that will completely transform their lives.”

Forced relocation and land clearance

A prerequisite to the government’s development plans for the Lower Omo Valley is the relocation of 150,000 indigenous people who live in the vicinity of the sugar plantations into permanent sedentary villages under the government’s deeply unpopular ‘villagization’ program.

Under this program, people are to be moved into sedentary villages and provided with schools, clinics, and other infrastructure. As has been seen in other parts of Ethiopia, these movements are not all voluntary.

Satellite images analyzed by Human Rights Watch show devastating changes to the Lower Omo Valley between November 2010 and January 2013, with large areas originally used for grazing cleared of all vegetation and new roads and irrigation canals crisscrossing the valley.

Lands critical for the livelihoods of the agro-pastoralist Bodi and Mursi peoples have been cleared for the sugar plantations. These changes are happening without their consent or compensation, local people told Human Rights Watch.

Free and informed consent?

Governments have a duty to consult and cooperate with indigenous people to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.

The imagery also shows the impact of a rudimentary dam built in July 2012 that diverted the waters of the Omo River into the sugar plantations. Water rapidly built up behind the shoddily built mud structure before breaking it twice.

The reservoir created behind the dam forced approximately 200 Bodi families to flee to high ground, leaving behind their crops and their homes.

The lure of year-round commercial agriculture

In a 2012 report Human Rights Watch warned of the risk to livelihoods and potential for increased conflict and food insecurity if the government continued to clear the land.

The report also documented how government security forces used violence and intimidation to make communities in the Lower Omo Valley relocate from their traditional lands, threatening their entire way of life with no compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods.

The development in the Lower Omo Valley depends on the construction upstream of a much larger hydropower dam – the Gibe III, which will regulate river flows to support year-round commercial agriculture.

new film produced by International Rivers, ‘A Cascade of Development on the Omo River’, reveals how and why the Gibe III will cause hydrological havoc on both sides of the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

Lake Turkana – waters could drop 22 meters

Most significantly, the changes in river flow caused by the dam and associated irrigated plantations could cause a huge drop in the water levels of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake and another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lake Turkana receives 90% of its water from the Omo River and is projected to drop by about two meters during the initial filling of the dam, which is estimated to begin around May 2014.

If current plans to create new plantations continue to move forward, the lake could drop as much as 16 to 22 meters. The average depth of the lake is just 31 meters.

The river flow past the Gibe III will be almost completely blocked beginning in 2014. According to government documents, it will take up to three years to fill the reservoir, during which the Omo River’s annual flow could drop by as much as 70%.

After this initial shock, regular dam operations will further devastate ecosystems and local livelihoods. Changes to the river’s flooding regime will harm agricultural yields, prevent the replenishment of important grazing areas, and reduce fish populations – all critical resources for livelihoods of certain indigenous groups.

These developments must be halted

The government of Ethiopia should halt development of the sugar plantations and the water offtakes until affected indigenous communities have been properly consulted and give their free, prior, and informed consent to the developments, Human Rights Watch and International Rivers said.

The impact of all planned developments in the Omo / Turkana basin on indigenous people’s livelihoods should be assessed through a transparent, independent impact assessment process.

“If Ethiopia continues to bulldoze ahead with these developments, it will devastate the livelihoods of half a million people who depend on the Omo River”, said Lori Pottinger, head of International Rivers’ Ethiopia program.

“It doesn’t have to be this way – Ethiopia has options for managing this river more sustainably, and pursuing developments that won’t harm the people who call this watershed home.”


Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most isolated and under-developed areas in East Africa. At least eight different groups call the Omo River Valley home and the livelihood of each of these groups is intimately tied to the Omo River and the surrounding lands.

Many of the indigenous people that inhabit the valley are agro-pastoralist, growing crops along the Omo River and grazing cattle.

In 2010, Ethiopia announced plans for the construction of Africa’s tallest dam, the 1,870 megawatt Gibe III dam on the Omo River. Controversy has dogged the Gibe III dam ever since.

The Ethiopian government announced even more ambitious plans for the region in 2011, including the development of at least 245,000 hectares of irrigated state-run sugar plantations. Downstream, the water-intensive sugar plantations, will depend on irrigation canals.

Although there have been some independent assessments of the Gibe dam project and its impact on river flow and Lake Turkana, to date the Ethiopian government has not published any environmental or social impact assessments for the sugar plantations and other commercial agricultural developments in the Omo valley.

Funding from China, World Bank, African Development Bank

Of all the major funders who considered the dam, only China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) provided financing.

The World Bank, African Development Bank, and European Investment Bank all declined to fund it, though the World Bank and African Development Bank have financed related power lines.

According to the regional government plan for villagization in Lower Omo, the World Bank-supported Pastoral Community Development Project (PCDP) is funding some of the infrastructure in the new villages.

Despite concerns over human rights abuses associated with the villagization program that were communicated to Bank management, in December 2013 the World Bank Board approved funding of the third phase of the PCDP III.

PCDP III ostensibly provides much-needed services to pastoral communities throughout Ethiopia, but according to government documents PCDP also pays for infrastructure being used in the sedentary villages that pastoralists are being moved to.

The US Congress has acted – but not the UK

The United States Congress in January included language in the 2014 Appropriations Act that puts conditions on US development assistance in the Lower Omo Valley requiring that there should be:

  • consultation with local communities;
  • that the assistance “supports initiatives of local communities to improve their livelihoods”;
  • and that no activities should be supported that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions.

However other donors have not publicly raised concerns about Ethiopia’s Lower Omo development plans.

Justine Greening, the British Secretary of State for International Development, in 2012 stated that her Department for International Development (DFID) was not able to“substantiate the human rights concerns” in the Lower Omo Valley – even though DFID officials heard these concerns directly from impacted communities in January 2012.


April 15, 2013

Half a million Kenyans and Ethiopians face conflict, hunger due to dam – report

The Gibe III dam will stop the Omo River’s natural flood, on which the tribes depend. Photo by Survival.

(Corrects story to clarify the British government through DFID funds Ethiopia’s PBS programme but it does not fund the Gibe III dam itself)

NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Half a million Kenyans and Ethiopians are likely to be displaced, go hungry and face conflict due to a controversial dam linked to a forcible resettlment programme ‘bankrolled’ by British taxpayers, the lobby group Survival International said on Monday.Gibe III

The Gibe III hydropower dam, due for completion in 2014, is being built on the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. It will reduce the flow of water to farmers and pastoralists living downstream, including those 600 kilometres to the south in Kenya, where the river flows into Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.

The British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is one of many international donors funding Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programme, which subsidises basic services and local government salaries. This includes areas where people are being relocated to make way for the dam, part of a wider programme to resettle people into designated villages – known as villagisation – begun in 2010.

Survival argues that the forced resettlment of thousands of tribal people could not be carried out without the DFID-funded PBS programme.

“UK money is bankrolling the destruction of some of the best-known pastoralist peoples in Africa,” Stephen Corry, director of Survival said in a statement. “The UK government is renowned for only paying lip service to human rights obligations where tribal peoples are concerned. When it comes to human rights in Ethiopia, DFID’s many commitments are worthless.”

It is not the first time that the PBS programme has come under fire.

Last year, the London-based law firm Leigh Day began legal action against DfID on behalf of an Ethiopian man, known as Mr O, who claims he suffered severe abuse under the villagisation programme.

DFID visited the Lower Omo, where it heard reports of rape and intimidation, but it has not been able to substantiate the claims.

Survival International cites three recent reports by Oxford University, International Rivers and the Africa Resources Working Group to support its case.

The Africa Resources Working Group report warns of “an impending human rights and ecological catastrophe” and a “very real threat of mass starvation and armed conflict in the border region.”

The International Rivers report says that those who lose their homes and livelihoods are “likely to seek out resources on their neighbours’ lands in the Kenya-Ethiopia-Sudan borderlands.”

“Well armed, primed by past grudges and often divided by support from different state and local governments, these conflicts can be expected to be bloody and persistent,” it said.

The Ethiopian government is planning to use the water to develop large-scale irrigation schemes, create jobs and generate huge amounts of electricity to power the region.

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