Published On: Mon, Nov 11th, 2013

Ethiopia’s Indigenous Excluded From Rapid Growth

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OMO EthOmo Valley — As the construction of a major transmission line to export electricity generated from one of Ethiopia’s major hydropower projects gets underway, there are growing concerns that pastoralist communities living in the region are under threat.

The Gibe III dam, which will generate 1,800 megawatts (MW), is being built in southeast Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars. It is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars annually from power exports. On completion in 2015 it will be the world’s fourth-largest dam.

But the dam is expected to debilitate the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and those living around Kenya’s Lake Turkana who depend on the Omo River.

The Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Mursi, Kwegu and Nyangatom ethnic communities who live along the Omo River depend on its annual flooding to practice flood-retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihoods.

But the semi-nomadic Mursi ethnic community are being resettled as part of the Ethiopian government’s villagisation programme to make room for a large sugar plantation, which will turn roaming pastoralists into sedentary farmers. The hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals currently being dug to divert the Omo River’s waters to feed these large plantations will make it impossible for the indigenous communities to live as they have always done.

“We are being told that our land is private property. We are very worried about our survival as we are being forced to move where there is no water, grass or crops,” a Mursi community member told IPS.

The Omo Valley is set to become a powerhouse of large commercial farming irrigated by the Gibe III dam. To date 445,000 hectares have been allocated to Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies to grow sugar, biofuels, cereals and other crops.

“The Gibe III will worsen poverty for the most vulnerable. The government already has trouble managing hunger and poverty [among] its citizenry. By taking over land and water resources in the Omo Valley, it is creating a new class of ‘internal refugees’ who will no longer be self-sufficient,” Lori Pottinger from environmental NGO International Rivers told IPS.

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