afrol News, 13 May - Activists dispair as it is announced that China's biggest bank ICBC will finance Ethiopia's controversial Gibe 3 Dam. Environmental considerations so far had halted World Bank funding for the project.
Yesterday, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) offered to step in with a US$ 500 million loan to Ethiopian authorities to fund the construction of Gibe 3. "If the loan is confirmed, China's biggest bank will become responsible for a massive social and environmental disaster," according to Peter Bosshard from International Rivers, a group campaigning against the dam.
According to news articles in the Ethiopian press, ICBC has agreed to extend the loan for a contract under which Dongfang Electric Machinery Corp, a Chinese state-owned company, will provide equipment for the Gibe 3 project.
This is a major setback for environmentalists, claiming the Gibe 3 project will spell disaster for the entire region. A worldwide civil society campaign has held international financial institutions at bay for several years.
Peter Bosshard, the policy director of International Rivers, comments: "The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank have so far kept their distance from a project that violates many of their safeguard policies. If ICBC indeed jumps into the fray, it will severely damage China's efforts to be a responsible actor in the protection of the global environmental."
Johan Frijns, the coordinator of the global BankTrack activist network, added that "China has made impressive progress in reforming its banking sector through its green credit policy. Funding an environmental disaster like the Gibe 3 Dam would make a mockery of the environmental reform efforts in China's banking sector."
According to the activists, Ethiopia's Gibe 3 Dam is one of the most destructive hydropower projects being built today. "If completed, it would destroy fragile ecosystems on which 500,000 poor indigenous people depend for their survival," International Rivers holds.
The Gibe 3 Dam on the Omo River is said to threaten livelihoods in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. "By ending the river's natural flood cycle, it would destroy harvests and grazing lands along the river banks and fisheries in Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake. The dam will devastate the unique culture and ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, both recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites," activists hold.
Also along the Omo River, indigenous societies have started protesting the giant scheme. Ikal Angelei, the chair of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, says that the Gibe 3 project "will destroy the lifeline of the Lower Omo Valley and the Lake Turkana region. It will condemn half a million of the region's most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict."
"We ask Chinese banks and companies to stay away from this disaster," Kenyan activist Angelei concludes in an appeal issued today.
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