LOIYANGALANI, Kenya--About a 20-hour drive from Nairobi, zebras graze on the shore of a jade-green lake while the heads of hippos and Nile crocodiles break the surface of the water. Myriad birds sing by the lakeside, and lions can be seen dosing off in the distance.
But far from view, in a different country, a mammoth project threatens to destroy the beauty and serenity of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, environmentalists warn.
The giant Gibe III Dam under construction over the Omo River in Ethiopia will lower water levels at Lake Turkana, ruining the ecosystem, and reduce spring and well water, possibly affecting more than 500,000 people, they say.
Many nations and organizations have already backed away from the dam project, citing growing environmental concerns.
However, observers say funds from China, which is ratcheting up development aid to Africa coupled with direct investment and trade, are keeping alive the controversial hydroelectric dam project.
The 6,500-square-kilometer Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, derives 90 percent of its water from the Omo River. Lake Turkana National Parks, which includes the Sibiloi National Park on the eastern shore, are listed collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in a statement that the Gibe III Dam will devastate Lake Turkana’s ecosystem.
Reaching the lake from the Kenyan capital requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle capable of traveling more than 500 kilometers over dry, gravel terrain.
The African Development Bank suspended support of the Gibe III Dam after its own environmental research in 2010 found that the project would lower water levels and aggravate water quality. U.S. and European investment banks have also withdrawn.
Ethiopia, which started construction in 2006, would not discuss who is funding the 1.8 million-kilowatt hydroelectric dam, Africa’s largest, worth $1.7 billion (136 billion yen).
But a senior official of Kenya’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation said China is a key supporter.
International Rivers, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, also said its independent investigation found that a Chinese bank is planning a $450-million loan for the project by lending the money to a Chinese-affiliated company awarded dam-related electric work.
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is believed to be involved in the project, did not respond to telephone and fax inquiries from The Asahi Shimbun by June 8.
Ethiopia plans to sell electricity from the Gibe III Dam to adjacent countries and also develop sugar cane and cotton plantations along the Omo River.
An official with Ethiopia’s ministry of water and energy told The Asahi Shimbun that the dam will bring significant benefits to neighboring countries, and that the Ethiopian government is still investigating the potential effects on Lake Turkana.
Ikal Angelei, 32, who heads the Kenyan environmental group Friends of Turkana, described the dam as a destructive project that represents anything but sustainable development.
She warned that water levels will fall by 6 meters in a few years, increasing the salt concentration in the lake, and that the use of chemical fertilizers at plantations will deteriorate the water quality.
Angelei said Ethiopia will also suffer because periodical flooding will decrease, impoverishing the soil.
People in the area live in houses made of grass and animal hides. They make their living on fishing, farming and cattle breeding.
Angelei has told them about the risks of dam construction. But few residents even know about the project.
“What is a dam?” a 32-year-old fisherman asked. “There is no way you can stop the lake’s water.”
China has been aggressively supporting Africa’s economic development despite criticism that the environment and other concerns are often compromised.
Critics say China, which is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has not abided by environmental standards required of industrialized countries or disclosed sufficient amounts of information on projects.
“Some Africans feel that Europe (which colonized the continent) is responsible for their underdevelopment,” said Izumi Ohno, a professor of development economics at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “A growing number of developing countries think that China’s emergence has widened their options.
“In some cases, however, there are environmental and other problems with (China’s) economic assistance.”
China has placed orders for African development projects with Chinese companies, a practice criticized in industrialized countries. It has also used the China-Africa Development Fund worth $5 billion to support their businesses.
In 2011, China’s direct investment in Africa totaled $1.7 billion, while its trade with the continent reached $166 billion. Both figures roughly quadrupled from 2005.
China plans a number of initiatives for Africa over three years through 2012, including 100 clean-energy projects, $10 billion in low-interest loans and tariff exemptions for a wide range of imports from the poorest countries.
In its first white paper on overseas aid released last year, Beijing specified broad principles, such as attaching no political strings, mutual support among developing economies and joint economic development.
China has also supported dam construction in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Last autumn, however, Myanmar announced a five-year freeze on construction of a hydroelectric dam that would be built with a Chinese electric power company. The project had faced criticism about environmental destruction.
Still, China continues to try to extend assistance to developing economies based on its own rules.
The country plans to set up a development bank with four other emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, and set up a similar bank with five other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Industrialized countries are calling on China to respect international rules.
The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee has started dialogue with Chinese government officials and researchers on the issue, while Washington and Beijing have agreed to cooperate on poverty reduction and development assistance.
(Staff writer Keiko Yoshioka contributed to this article.)
- « Prev
- Next »