Protest targets Italian government over Ethiopian dam disaster

June 15, 2010

The Mursi are one of the tribes that will be affected by plantations and the Gibe III dam. © Magda Rakita/ Survival

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Demonstrators outside the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome today will urge the government to deny Ethiopia €250 million for construction of the controversial Gibe III dam

The dam will devastate at least eight tribes living in the country’s Lower Omo Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A coalition of organizations including Survival, the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank and human rights groups from Kenya, will deliver a petition denouncing the Gibe III dam. More than 300 concerned organizations have signed the petition.

Gibe III, which is being built by Italian firm Salini Costruttori with equipment provided by US company Harsco Corporation, will destroy the natural flood cycles along Ethiopia’s Omo River. The Lower Omo Valley tribes depend on the river’s floods for their survival. They have not been consulted about the dam

A member of the hunter-gatherer Kwegu tribe said, ‘[W]e depend on the fish, they are like our cattle. If the Omo floods are gone we will die.’

The Omo River is the main source for Kenya’s famous Lake Turkana, which is a lifeline for more than 300,000 Kenyans. Representatives from the Kenyan organizations ‘Friends of Lake Turkana’ and ‘The Daughter of Mumbi’ will join the demonstrators in Rome today.

It is thought that the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, may offer a loan for the Gibe III dam very shortly. If he does, he will be ignoring the widespread international concern regarding the dam’s social and environmental impacts, and the advice of many Italian NGOs.

In a joint letter sent to the minister last month, a large number of Italian NGOs urged the Minister not to support Gibe III, arguing the project would ‘put at risk the food security of half a million people’. The letter states, ‘our country has the political duty to uphold and promote the rights of the most threatened tribal peoples… as required by the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights which Italy has endorsed’.

The Gibe III contract was awarded to Salini Costruttori without any competitive bidding process, contrary to Ethiopian law. Construction began two years before the Ethiopian Environmental Protection agency gave permission for the project.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, ‘If the Gibe III dam is finished, so too are the tribes of the Lower Omo Valley. Italy should play no part in this dam.’

Protest details
Time: 15,30  (Italian time)
Place: Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Piazzale della Farnesina 1, Roma


Omo Valley Tribes