World Bank under fire for power line

2012-07-12 17:30

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Washington - Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged the World Bank to withhold support for a power line that would take electricity from Ethiopia to Kenya, citing environmental and human rights concerns.

On the eve of a World Bank discussion that could give the project the green light, the advocacy group urged newly installed bank president Jim Yong Kim to hold fire.

"The World Bank needs to rigorously apply its social and environmental safeguards," a letter to Kim stated.

"Human Rights Watch has very serious concerns that the World Bank has failed to do so as the project currently stands."

The roughly 1 000km transmission line is part of a nearly $1.3bn project to link energy-producing Ethiopia with Kenya - where as many as 80% of the population is without power.

It is also part of a broader plan to link the electricity grids of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, spurring growth and saving East African nations around $1bna year in energy costs.

But HRW said the project also includes pitfalls for the environment and local residents, some of whom will be displaced.

HRW said the dam that will be the likely source of the power in Ethiopia - which is not funded by the bank - could cause serious environmental damage to Lake Turkana, a Unesco world heritage site.

HRW said the dam project has also resulted in a swathe of "abusive involuntary resettlement" of local groups.

While the World Bank says that more than 5 000 people will be directly affected by the power project, it stresses the dam project is not directly linked and energy will come from a large number of existing and future power plants in Ethiopia.

Human Rights Watch has been vocal in its criticism of the Ethiopian government for its policy of "villagisation", which it claims has resulted in a wave of forced relocations.

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