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‘Development’ Projects in Ethiopia Leave Starvation, Disease in Wake: Report

February 12, 2023

By John Cannon

  • Indigenous groups in southwestern Ethiopia are suffering from starvation and disease after being displaced from their land for construction of a dam and the installation of large-scale sugarcane plantations, according to a report from the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank.
  • These projects have deprived the communities living in the Lower Omo Valley of their ability to farm and maintain their livestock herds, but this “catastrophe” has gone largely unnoticed in the shadow of even wider hunger and displacement due to civil war in the northern Tigray region, the report says.
  • Humanitarian NGO World Vision International delivered some food aid to the region in November 2022.
  • But the Oakland Institute said more food and medical care is urgently needed, along with the return of the land back to the Indigenous groups who have lived in this region for centuries, and is urging the government and the humanitarian community to respond immediately.

A flagship dam and large-scale sugarcane plantations in southwestern Ethiopia are causing starvation and disease among several Indigenous groups driven off their land by the projects, according to a report by the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank.

Construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam on the Omo River began in 2006. The intention was to provide water for irrigation to commercial plantations and generate electricity, some of which would address the country’s power deficit and some that would be sold to neighboring countries like Kenya. Five years later, the government started the Kuraz Sugar Development Project, slated to cover at least 150,000 hectares (nearly 371,000 acres), which is almost the size of London, and include six sugar-processing factories. Some estimates suggest plantations could cover 245,000 hectares (more than 605,000 acres).

To make room for the plantations, the government planned to resettle 200,000 people living in the Lower Omo Valley. Now, research by the Oakland Institute alleges that the lives and livelihoods of the Bodi, Kwegu, Mursi and other Indigenous groups have been radically altered.