|A Nahua man shortly after first contact in 1984. More than 50% of the Nahua died following contact.
A pioneer scientific study has revealed how some of the world’s last uncontacted tribes are threatened by ‘the detonation of thousands of seismic explosives’ on their land.
The study says that seventeen large areas in the Peruvian Amazon where oil and gas companies can work include land inhabited by uncontacted Indians.
The potential impacts on the tribes and their land are ‘severe and extensive’, says the study. These impacts include: ‘hundreds of heliports’, ‘the cutting of hundreds of kilometres of seismic lines’, ‘the detonation of thousands of seismic explosives’, oil spills and leaks, new roads, and the ‘unique potential of advancing the agricultural, cattle and logging frontiers’, all of which could be disastrous for the tribes ‘whose lack of resistance or immunity make them extremely vulnerable to illnesses brought by outsiders.’
‘More of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased to oil and gas companies over the past four years than at any other time on record,’ says the study, published in ‘Environmental Research Letters’.
The study cites drilling in northern Peru by a British company as ‘extremely controversial’, although it does not mention the company, Perenco, by name. Perenco, which has recently revealed plans to build a pipeline into the region, is working ‘within a mega-diverse and largely intact section of the Amazon (where) there is strong anthropological evidence (of) uncontacted indigenous peoples.’
The study says that a massive 72% of the entire Peruvian Amazon is now open for exploration and drilling. Survival is campaigning against exploration in parts of the Peruvian Amazon inhabited by uncontacted tribes.
Aid for Ethiopian Dam Challenged
BRUSSELS, Jan 26 (IPS) – Financial support has been requested from the European Union for a controversial energy project in Ethiopia that could drive thousands of farmers from their land.
With a projected cost of 1.7 billion dollars, the Gilgel Gibe 3 dam is the single largest infrastructural work being undertaken in Ethiopia. At a launch ceremony Jan. 24, Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis predicted that the hydroelectricity scheme will boost efforts to reduce poverty.
Yet his upbeat assessment is disputed by environmental and social policy activists.
They predict the dam will have adverse consequences for the ecology of the Gibe-Obo river system. Although 400 nomadic pastoralists are likely to lose access to grazing lands as a result of it, locals have not been formally consulted about its effects.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) has confirmed that it has received a request to loan money to the dam.
In a letter, seen by IPS, senior bank official Yvonne Berghorst said that “in order to qualify for funding, the EIB’s normal thorough project appraisal procedure would need to demonstrate that the project meets the EIB’s requirements on environmental and social standards, is technically, economically and financially viable and complies with relevant practices and standards regarding procurement.”
Doubts have been cast on whether the project would comply with international tendering rules. Salini, an Italian construction firm, was awarded a contract for the project by the Addis Ababa government, without any competition.
An EIB spokesman said that because the contract had been granted in this way, the bank would “only be able to finance things that might be subcontracted” to other companies.
“We will be looking very carefully at the project’s affordability,” the spokesman added. “Does the project make sense for the Ethiopian economy? We will look at what positive effects it will have to make a balanced decision.”
Campaigners have declined to accept this reassurance.
Magda Stockczkiewicz from Friends of the Earth’s Brussels office pointed out that the EIB had previously financed earlier phases of the dam’s construction between 1998 and 2005, even though similar problems had been observed in the awarding of contracts. A loan of more than 44 million euros (65 million dollars) was allocated to phase two, for example.
“It is in keeping with the classic EIB approach that it is not going to provide finance to all of a monster but that it is happy to finance the birth of a monster,” said Stockczkiewicz.
Set up by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the EIB is an official EU body, which approved loans totalling more than 53 billion euros (78 billion dollars) in 2006.
Although the bank raises its capital from international markets, its mandate requires that it adheres to the Union’s policies. Under the Cotonou Agreement, a treaty signed in 2000 that lays down the legal basis for the EU’s relationship with Africa, it is obliged to ensure that any work it supports in Africa helps reduce poverty.
Gilgel Gibe 3 is considered pivotal to an Ethiopian five-year plan to generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity. Almost half that energy is to come from the project.
But the question of whether the domestic population will benefit as a result is fiercely contested, given that much of its power could be exported to Kenya.
Caterina Amicucci from the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank in Rome said that just 6 percent of Ethiopia’s 73 million inhabitants are connected to the national electricity grid. It would be preferable, she added, to invest in improving domestic capacity than to support schemes designed to export energy.
As alternatives to Gilgel Gibe 3, campaigners are advocating a major effort to increase the supply of cooking fuels to rural communities.
Ethiopia has also been identified as having vast potential for the generation of geothermal energy – from heat stored beneath the earth’s surface – particularly in the Rift Valley.
Despite being a critic of the World Bank, Amicucci argued that the Washington-based institution is “much more advanced” than the EIB. After sustained campaigning by a wide variety of organisations, the World Bank has become more transparent and has begun insisting that correct procedures are followed before it releases money.
“Because of the procurement issue (with Gilgel Gibe 3), the World Bank’s offices in Addis Ababa have told us they can’t support this project,” Amicucci added.
Another concern being raised is that Ethiopia could struggle to pay back a large-scale loan.
In a report on Ethiopia issued last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that the granting of commercial loans to public enterprises has a “sizeable effect” on debt sustainability.
The World Bank and IMF consider the external debt of a country as sustainable when it is around 150 percent of its yearly export revenues.
According to the latest data published by the World Bank, Ethiopia has an external debt of 6 billion dollars, equivalent to one-fifth of national income.
Some 40 percent of Ethiopians live below the poverty line.
“Loans have to be paid back,” said Stockczkiewicz. “Our belief is that in such a situation, the responsibility on the donor is even greater. If they don’t look through all the pros and cons of a project before giving a loan, at the end of the day it is the country’s people that will have to pay the price.”
European bank withdraws funding from Ethiopia’s dam
, – The European Investment Bank has decided to pull back its funding for Ethiopia’s hydropower dam following pressure calls by environmentalists that the Gibe 3 Dam threatens the food security and local economies that support more than half a million people in Southwest Ethiopia.
According to the banks statement, the Euro 1.55 billion hydropower dam would devastate the ecosystems of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and Kenya’s Lake Turkana.
The dam which is expected to be Africa’s tallest dam with the height of 240 meters and Ethiopia’s biggest investment, drew criticisms from environmentalists saying the construction will wreak havoc on the Omo River’s natural flood cycle.
The Bank’s statement further said in March 2009, Friends of Lake Turkana, a group of affected people in Kenya, urged the EIB not to fund the Gibe 3 because the affected communities could not withstand any more pressure on the little resources along the lake.
The coordinator of Friends of Lake Turkana, Ikal Angelei, said Gibe 3 Dam would lead to the ecological and economic collapse around Lake Turkana, adding that it would also fuel tension in the volatile east African region.
The African Development Bank will be the next financier to consider funding for the project. Friends of Lake Turkana and International Rivers Network submitted complaints to the AfDB in March and April.
International Rivers’ Africa director Terri Hathaway said the Gibe 3 Dam violates the AfDB’s policies on environmental and social assessment, poverty reduction, resettlement, public disclosure, and trans-boundary water management.
“Donors should not fund through the AfDB what they are not prepared to fund through the EIB,” the official said.
The Gibe 3 Dam which resumed construction in 2006 was awarded without competition to an Italian construction giant Salini, raising serious questions about the project’s integrity. The project’s impact assessment reports were also published long after construction began and are said to disregard the project’s most serious consequences.
The European Investment Bank financed the Gibe and Gibe 2 dams, conducted a pre-assessment of the Gibe 3 Dam, and contribued funds to the project’s Economic, Financial and Technical Assessment.
The environmentalists have argued that the construction of Gibe 3 dam would leave the Lake Turkana and its inhabitants devastated as the lake could start drying up when its main source, the Omo River, is depleted by a huge dam in Ethiopia.
“There is no question that Ethiopia needs power. But the irony of the Gibe III dam is that while it threatens the economy of the Turkana region, a large share of its electricity will be sold to consumers in other parts of Kenya,” the environmentalists has said.
Although Kenya and Ethiopia have reportedly signed the power purchase agreement outlining the terms of electricity sales in 2006, no bilateral agreements on the use of the Omo-Turkana waterway and the dam’s downstream effects to Kenya are publicly known.
Kenyan indigenous groups file complaint with AfDB on Ethiopian dam
2 March 2009
Requestors argue that the Gibe III Dam is set to deplete Lake Turkana with dramatic impacts on downstream communities in Kenya, and in the absence of public consultation.
On February 4, Friends of Lake Turkana, a Kenyan organization representing indigenous groups in northwestern Kenya whose livelihoods are linked to Lake Turkana, filed a formal request with the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Compliance Review & Mediation Unit (CRMU) – the AfDB’s internal accountability mechanism – to investigate and intervene in the Bank’s plans to finance the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric project in Ethiopia.
Gilgel Gibe III (known as “Gibe”) is part of a continuing series of projects on the Omo River and its tributaries in southwestern Ethiopia. Construction on the third portion of the project began in 2006, but the request for funding to the AfDB was only made recently. The project has become problematic for public funders because the Ethiopian government did not follow standard procedures in awarding the main contract to an Italian firm, Salini, without any bidding procedure. The World Bank has declined to offer financing because of this flaw, as has the Italian government. The European Investment Bank also seems to be leaning against any funding, on the same grounds. The AfDB’s procurement guidelines likewise prohibit it from funding the main contract, but the loan currently under consideration uses a loophole – financing through a sub-contract – to evade the rules.
With so many potential public funders turning away from the project, and with private financiers like J.P. Morgan Chase withdrawing support because of the financial crisis, the AfDB’s contribution becomes more important – even vital – if the project is to be completed.
Unfortunately, judgments about whether procurement rules have been violated do not fall within the CRMU’s mandate. The request filed by FoLT instead focuses on the impact of the project on Lake Turkana. The Omo River supplies roughly 80 percent of the water in the lake, which is the world’s largest permanent desert lake. The contemplated impact of the dam could reduce the lake’s depth, it is estimated, by between 7 and 10 meters. Such an impact would have serious repercussions on the chemical balance of the lake, which is highly alkaline, and therefore on the biodiversity supported by the lake. Lake Turkana hosts the world’s largest group of Nile crocodiles – over 20,000 – as well as many other species of fish, bird, hippopotamus, etc.
A serious impact on the lake would also have a serious impact on the riverine forest and the lands around the lake used for flood-recession agriculture. Most of the peoples living in the area are pastoralists who supplement their diet with seasonal cultivation; a damaged lake would seriously compromise their food security and way of life.
The Ethiopian government approved its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) on the project in July 2008, nearly two years after construction began, in a blatant violation of Ethiopian law. The ESIA barely acknowledges any impact on Lake Turkana, and provides unrealistically rosy scenarios to claim that the project will actually improve conditions at the lake, such as by “reducing evaporation” – indeed, if there is less water, there is less evaporation. Little effort has been made to consult with affected peoples, and no effort whatsoever has been made on the Kenyan side of the border.
Northwestern Kenya is one of the most arid and resource-deprived parts of Kenya, and conflict among its various people has been chronic. The impact of the Gibe Dam on Lake Turkana would very likely lead to increased violent conflict.
Although Ethiopia is chronically short of power, most of the power produced by this project would, ironically, be sold to Kenya. That power would be very unlikely, however, to benefit the peoples of northwestern Kenya, but instead go to the metropolitan areas such as Nairobi, further south. The arrangements between the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have not been transparent, and there is now jostling in Parliament and the Kenyan coalition government to ascertain what has been agreed to and whether the interests of the people around Lake Turkana have been taken into account.
Friends of Lake Turkana is careful to acknowledge that while they are fighting for the interests of the people on the Kenyan side of the border, there are hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia who stand to suffer even more disruptive impacts. The Omo River Valley is populated by a very diverse assortment of indigenous groups, also prone to conflict over scarce resources. Consultations with them have been minimal. But the Ethiopian government’s record of repression, and new laws it has recently passed to further limit the activities of civil society groups, have effectively discouraged groups in Ethiopia from organizing explicit opposition. Nonetheless, expatriate Ethiopian groups, together with NGOs with an interest in the region, plan to file a request to supplement FoLT’s in the coming weeks that will outline in more detail the potential problems in Ethiopia.
The AfDB board was originally scheduled to discuss the project on February 25, but that date was delayed shortly after FoLT’s request was filed. There is now no indication when the project will be formally considered, but efforts are being made within the Bank, both through the CRMU and through other contacts, to slow down the process and make sure that adequate consultations and studies are done before any decision is made.
BY SARAH WAMBUI