River Activists Take Goldman Prize

Jason Rainey
Ikal speaking to a community near Lake Turkana
Ikal speaking to a community near Lake Turkana
Photo courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

Today is a momentous day for those of us in the global movement to protect rivers and human rights. One of our colleagues, Ikal Angelei from Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, has won a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to unite indigenous communities in opposition to the Gibe III Dam upstream in Ethiopia. Tonight’s award ceremony will be the culmination of four days of conversations that put the spotlight on the renewed global dam boom, and China’s unique place within it.

On Friday, I attended the what is likely the most comprehensive public airing of the failed promises of the world’s largest hydropower dam. “After Three Gorges Dam, What Have we Learned?” was a highly stimulating symposium at UC Berkeley featuring a dozen experts from China presenting evidence of the Three Gorges Dam's impacts ranging from floods and flows to socio-economic impacts.

Ikal Angelei and Dai Qing on April 15, 2012
Ikal Angelei and Dai Qing on April 15, 2012
Photo by Ian Elwood/International Rivers

On Sunday I facilitated a conversation between Ikal and Dai Qing – a Chinese journalist and clear-eyed critic of the hubris of Three Gorges, and a Goldman Environmental Prize winner herself in 1993. China’s New Great Walls: Stories of China’s Dams from Three Gorges to the Horn of Africa focused on bringing to light the human impacts of China’s role as the world’s biggest dam-builder, especially within China and Africa.

The Gibe III Dam has only one remaining financier - China's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) - thanks to the campaigning by Ikal to successfully persuade the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank to withdraw consideration for financing it. International Rivers' Policy Director Peter Bosshard joined the conversation to discuss China's growing influence in Africa and the dangers of imposing the model of centralized, big dam infrastructure on the people of Africa. The Sunday event in San Francisco had many highlights, including a poignant film by Jane Baldwin on the livelihoods at stake downstream of the Gibe III Dam called Kara Women Speak.

And today the spotlight will shine brightly on Ikal Angelei and the movement she’s been central in organizing. I’m excited to join other members of the International Rivers staff and hundreds of local environmental activists as Ikal and the five other recipients of the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize are acknowledged at an awards ceremony in San Francisco this evening.

This high honor affords Ikal – and her organization Friends of Lake Turkana – an opportunity to draw international attention on the Gibe III Dam and what’s at stake for the Lake Turkana World Heritage Site and the roughly half a million people dependent upon the waters downstream of Gibe III.

As a long-standing partner and supporter of Ikal and Friends of Lake Turkana, we here at International Rivers look forward to amplifying our support of Ikal’s campaign to stop the Gibe III Dam and push for investment in energy options that protect the cultures and livelihoods of the people of the Omo River Valley and Lake Turkana.

More information: 

Please help the campaign to stop the Gibe III Dam by taking action today.

Next month, the World Bank – which decided to not fund the Gibe III Dam – will choose whether or not it will provide US$676 million for the transmission line that would export the project's electricity. Since the Bank deemed the Gibe III Dam as too destructive for direct support, we believe that it shouldn't provide backdoor funding for the transmission line either.

Here's how you can help:

  • "Like" Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) on Facebook
  • Write a message on FoLT's wall (note that in order for the @ referenced pages to show up, you need to type them out, including the @symbol; copy and paste doesn't work):
    • Congratulations to Ikal Angelei and @Friends of Lake Turkana for winning the @Goldman Environmental Prize. @World Bank, please continue to stay out of the controversial and desctructive Gibe III Dam - don't fund the transmission line!
  • Tweet these messages on Twitter:
    • @WorldBank Protect our #worldheritage! Don't fund the destruction of Lake #Turkana. #ecomonday http://friendsoflaketurkana.org/
    • Congrats Ikal of @FoLTurkana for winning the 2012 #goldmanprize for protecting Lake #Turkana /en/node/7361