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

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 15 Apr 2013 13:01 GMT
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(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 resettlement programme 'bankrolled' by British taxpayers, the lobby group Survival International said on Monday.

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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