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China's role in funding Ethiopian dam draws ire

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The lake's survival hangs in the balance as China decides whether to fund the dam project, says Ikal Angelei, founder of Friends of Lake Turkana and the winner of the 2012 Goldman Environment Prize for Africa.

“The lake is in the danger of drying unless the Kenyan government and international agencies step in to stop the unsustainable development both within and outside Kenya,” said Ms. Angelei at a news conference in Nairobi.

“While many would-be financiers have withdrawn ... China still holds [to its] promise,” she added.

The Kenyan government, which would benefit from a new source of electrical power, has been quiet about the project. But In August 2011, the Kenyan parliament passed a resolution demanding the suspension of dam construction pending environmental assessment studies.

In June, UNESCO World Heritage Sites committee rejected an appeal by the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to place Lake Turkana in the list of world sites in danger, a development that outraged environmental conservation groups.

“The lake needs all the protection it can get against the vagaries of climate change, Gibe III, and the thirsty sugar cane and cotton plantations that Ethiopia is developing along the Omo River,” said Angelei.

Chinese company Dongfang Electric Corp. has been contracted to carry out construction work, according to reports, as the country searches for more funds to complete the dam. Two-thirds of the work reportedly is already done. The Italian construction company Salini Costruttori is the primary construction contractor, while Dongfang will be responsible for the hydromechanical and electromechanical part of the project, the chief executive of the state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corp., was quoted as saying by Ethiopian news organizations.

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