Meet the Environmentalists on their Own Terms
April 10, 2009

The recent newsflash about Ghilghel Ghibe III hydropower dam is one development project that united a broad spectrum of Ethiopians inside and outside Ethiopia, as can be gleaned from opinions expressed here and there. General public opinions range from putting development projects before politics to attacking criticism about its environmental impact as bordering on a "heinous" Nazi ideology. What this newsflash has demonstrated is that despite political differences, our people across the board have a strong desire to see meaningful developments in our native land.

The International Rivers, an environmental and human rights organization based in California, has criticized the project for not properly completing an environmental impact assessment, further alleging that this project has significant impacts on the people along the Omo River downstream from the dam as well as on the ecology of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The BBC headlined the news: "The dam that divides Ethiopians." While not giving much detail in its report how this project divides the Ethiopians, this BBC report notes that the dam "is the third in a series of cascading hydroelectric projects in the region."

Environmental concerns are not new. They may be as old as humanity's known consciousness. The concepts of the Balanced Nature of our own people and the ancient Egyptians, Gaia of the ancient Greece, Universal Harmony of the Chinese, and Mother Nature of the Native Americans may all be pointing to what has emerged today as a concern for Environmental Protection. What all these concepts may have in common could be that all are based on the understanding of the effects of human influence on the environment. The effect on the environment of water development projects that were undertaken in the last several decades around the world started to be observed after the fact that it led to the emergence of concerned environmental groups that have started debates with agricultural and urban interest groups. Today, balancing the demands of water for agriculture, domestic, hydropower, fisheries, recreation, the environment, and so on has become a delicate exercise in many quarters.

In Ethiopia, the impact of its projects on its environment should concern Ethiopia more than any other party since the people and the environment that are affected are of its own. To the extent that the Ghilghel Ghibe III project is a series of cascading hydroelectric projects, and if this is done by regulating and rerouting the water within the basin, it may be less likely to cause a significant environmental impact that can't be mitigated. Thus, instead of blowing the concerns of environmental groups out of proportion to the extent that it borders on Nazi ideology, it would be prudent to meet them on their own terms. Prudence demands not the lack of tested experience or the manifestation of insecurity about the subject.

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