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Published: August 12th 2011
ETHIOPIA...THE KARO...Handsome is an Art Form. I am not a Rainbow Warrior...I am not even a warrior...but I inadvertently walked into a major World ecological impacting controversy on 25 January 2011 when I visited the Mursi...when the President was in Jinka (see last blog)...and then the Karo and Hamar and other tribes...and I am not yet ready to walk out.
Welcome to the Karo...a true jewel of African tribes...the smallest of the South Omo River Valley tribes...possibly the friendliest...whose lifestyle and survival is very much in question.
While Mali was pure adventure...West African...serendipity in overdrive...quirky stories...mesmerizing music...poor, handsome, honest, friendly people...in a harsh but diverse locale... Ethiopia was a complete contrast.
A country with "a growth rate of about 11%!o(MISSING)ver the last 5 to 6 years" as also advised by my economist airplane companion (see "Faces of Mali...The Men") ...Ethiopia is a country on the move...economically.
Development of infrastructure throughout...especially in the South...roadworks everwhere.
I found this exciting at the time...not for the dust that choked the convoys of donkey carts heading to market...not for the frequent detours around the roadworks...but 'cause I could see an African government at work...using its good times to
benefit the people...creating an infrastructure that in most African countries appeared to be of minimal, if any, importance.
The images from a previous trip...of powerlines from a power station running down the shore of Lake Malawi...to an official residence...passing over village after village without a line dropping in...haunt me still.
My image of Ethiopia was previously drought, malnuitrition, Live Aid concerts...still the Western perception I was told many times...but it was so different...one of the most prosperous countries in Africa...full of amazing history...even castles...about 82 tribes or ethnic groups...my "jewel of Africa".
Ravaged by a war with Eritrea for 28 years that sucked the lifeblood out of the economy and thus the people...through famine and helplessness...the war now over...to what I saw as I danced through North & South...stunning...prosperous...and no rubbish...
Did I mention no rubbish...? Yeh...no rubbish...not scattered in markets...not littered around villages...not strewn by the roadside...huts with pristine front yards...national pride so obvious...the greatest contrast to other African countries I have danced through..!!!
The UK Guardian newspaper on 15 June 2010 reported: "Ethiopia aims to turn itself into a regional energy giant.
The Gibe 3 dam on the Omo River will
be Africa's largest, providing power to a nation with one of the world's lowest per capita levels of access to electricity.
NGOs warn of environmental disaster."
Gibe 3 is part of the Gibe Cascade...an elegant name for 5 dams...Gibe 1 to 5...the third being the largest at 243 mtrs high by 610 mtrs long.
In August 2010 the Prime Minister vowed the Gibe 3 dam commenced in 2006 would be completed "at any cost."
He slammed critics "They want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum."
Construction is over 40%!c(MISSING)ompleted but filling will not commence until at least 2012.
The Gibe 3 dam has been clouded in controversy from the outset.
I understand Impact Assessments were not commenced until 2 years after construction commenced. There has not been consultation with indigenous groups affected...of the 200,000 people below the dam....ah sorry...yes I did read a report 100 people had been consulted...but wasn't that recently?...only 100?
Almost all of Ethiopia's electric power is hydroelectric generated. Less than 2%!o(MISSING)f the rural population is connected to the power grid. 85%!o(MISSING)f the population is rural.
output from Gibe 3 is expected to more than double the country's present output...and it is intended half of its output be used in Ethiopia and the balance exported to Kenya, Sudan & Djibouti...the projected earnings to exceed coffee as the No. 1 export earner.
I understand it is hoped to increase the country's present power output by 900%!i(MISSING)n a few years.
To date drought has affected other hydroelectric output throughout the country...less water=less power.
The Government argues Gibe 3 will reduce the impact of flood damage and droughts. It says there will be more stable flow of the river over the year...more in the dry...and less in the wet season. It argues residents downstream will be better off with irrigation projects and that it will not affect the levels of Lake Turkana.
Critics such as International Rivers, Survival International and various African welfare groups are alarmed it will stop the annual floods relied on by the 8 indigenous groups below the dam for flood recession cultivation and livestock herding by the riverbank...and have catastrophic affect on the biosphere.
They say "The dam, if not stopped will cause food insecurity, chronic hunger, poor health,
food aid dependence, conflicts among the local communities for control of the already scarce natural resources..."
The only remaining riparian forest in the Sub-Sahara is in the Omo Valley and it is feared it will "dry out".
The underground water table that relies on annual floods...critics say will be depleted, creating greater pressures on the peoples who rely on the river and basin for survival.
And they even say it is in an earthquake risk zone and the rock sub-surface is cracked...let alone greater malarial risk from the dam!!!
In June 2011 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called for construction to halt so it could assess the impact on Lake Turkana...i.e. increases of salinity due to lower river input etc.
As Lake Turkana has had fluctuated levels for other reasons in its recent history...I am not confident UNESCO would receive other than a one-fingered salute.
It is said the World Bank & the African Development Bank expressed doubts on the project so the Government turned to the Chinese for finance. Sinohydro is already working on plans for Gibe 4.
We visited the Karo at Kolcho...one & a half hours through the dry bush
from Turmi...pretty well flat all the way...through precipitous dry creek beds...through miles of termite chimneys...to the Omo River...to a pretty and well organised village.
Compared to the Mursi village in Mago National Park (See "Ethiopia...Stretched Lips & Ak47s...the Mursi")...Kolcho was like a ranch in comparison...well that's a long bow...but it had structures for parking 4WDs..!
We were met by our "adonis" local guide...then at a distance...the formation that forms my Panorama...wow...these guys know how to turn it on...grab a slab from our brick of 1 birr notes..."I'm happy to photograph all of them...16 to pay...no problem...hold that pose."
The village was on a horse-shoe bend of the river and on high ground. Below and on the other bank were their crops. I thought another tribe lived on the other side that they frequently warred with..."further downstream affecting another village"
I was told.
I am here...the Karo have always been on my "Wish List"...they make handsome an art form...but for how much longer?
Tradition versus progress...the winner seems inevitable.
I have signed the "Stop Gibe 3 Dam Petition against a man-made disaster."
I am signature 15,122...I am surprised there are so few...maybe the World
feels the cause is already lost.
Frankly I can see the Government's point...and the critics' point...
I hate attitudes of 'let the poor rot'
that seems to pervade most of Africa...but here is a Government with good intentions...even if it's "hell for the consequences."
How lucky am I to have visited the Karo?...extremely in my mind...let the pictures do the talking...lucky or what..!!!
Relax & Enjoy,
A circumspect Dancing Dave...again.
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