News / Africa

Kenya, Ethiopia Mediating Omo River Water Controversy

Indigenous populations at Loarengak in remote northwest Kenya surrive on fish and cattle in region where survival depends on access to water from the Omo River in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is building a hydro dam that Kenyans fear threatens Kenyan livelihoods.
Indigenous populations at Loarengak in remote northwest Kenya surrive on fish and cattle in region where survival depends on access to water from the Omo River in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is building a hydro dam that Kenyans fear threatens Kenyan livelihoods.
David Arnold
An environmental controversy surrounding the construction of Gilgel Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia’s Highlands appears to be close to resolution. Kenyan authorities have raised concerns about the dam because it is being built along Ethiopia’s Omo River which is the major source of water for Kenya’s Lake Turkana.
 
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has been working with Kenyan and Ethiopian governments on developing a joint project on sustainable development of the basin.

An agreement between the two water ministries may be signed in November, said an official for UNEP in Nairobi. The draft agreement proposes joint management of all natural resources in Lake Turkana and its river basin which extends upstream into Ethiopia.
 
Lake Turkana defenders in Kenya anticipate an agreement could save the lake.
 
Turkana Lake, Gibe III Hydroelectric ProjectTurkana Lake, Gibe III Hydroelectric Project
x
Turkana Lake, Gibe III Hydroelectric Project
Turkana Lake, Gibe III Hydroelectric Project
At issue is the question of whether Ethiopia’s Gilgel Gibe 111 dam will drain upstream waters to irrigate large plantations on the Ethiopia side of the border, a move that Kenya fears will critically damage Lake Turkana, 675 kilometers downstream.  More than 80 percent of the Kenyan lake’s waters come from the Omo in Ethiopia and water levels in the lake could drop by as much as 10 meters once the dam is operational. Lake Turkana is also a World Heritage site where some of earliest evidence of man has been found and is currently home to thousands of fishermen and others who use the lake waters for their livestock.
 
“Our big concern is the water levels of Lake Turkana,” said Thomas Wildman, Horn of Africa director for Oxfam Great Britain. “The big question is whether Ethiopia is going to release all the water from the dam once they’ve drawn it for hydro or if they’re going to keep any of that water.”
 
Irrigation a major concern for Kenya
 
The Gilgel Gibe III is the third of three dams to be built on the Omo River and its tributaries that run south and empty into Lake Turkana across the Kenyan border. Recent Ethiopian proposals to divert Omo waters for irrigation of a major sugar plantation in the basin have alarmed officials in the administration President Uhuru Kenyatta.
 
“For the first time this year, the president of Kenya actually accepted that the dam has an impact on Lake Turkana,” said Akil Angelei, president of The Friends of Lake Turkana. “After years of back and forth, UNEP is trying to convene meetings to look at a way forward on the issue.”
 
As part of its development strategy Ethiopia is seeking to become a major source of global sugar. It is building 10 new refineries and devoting another 5 million hectares to growing sugarcane.  South Omo is to host six of those factories and half of the plantation lands.
 
Oxfam said the Omo River dam construction – originally identified as a hydroelectric project – is now viewed as “quite a large-scale irrigation project which could really reduce the levels and create an ecological impact on the fish populations which are a primary sources of livelihood for the people on the lake and on the floodplain for livestock.”
 
“We know that Ethiopia’s main drive had been not just hydro but irrigation,” said Angelei, “so we are trying highlight that we need them to look at what the entire basin needs.”
 
Thousands displaced by the dam
 
Another issue of concern surrounding construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam is the displacement of people.  Claudia Carr at the University of California at Berkeley reported that large numbers of Mursi people in the north of the basin and Dasanech groups along the eastern shore have already been removed by the Ethiopia government. The Dasanech occupy the northern and eastern shores of the lake and straddle both countries. Gabbra and Turkana groups live to the south and west of the lake.
 
More than a dozen indigenous tribes have lived in the basin for centuries, raising cattle and goats and fishing the lake. Some estimates say that beyond the 20,000 who depend directly on the lake’s waters, more than 200,000 Kenyans and Ethiopians would be impacted by a drop in lake waters.   
 
Cattle raids and tribal clashes are frequent among the tribes such as the Rendille.  Many who study the region are concerned that reduced water flows will increase competition for water and lead to increased clashes.  Rights groups have reported that in Ethiopia many villagers been removed to provide up to 300,000 hectares in South Oromo for proposed sugar and cotton plantations.
 
An early champion of Lake Turkana, Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey said four years ago that the Gilgel Gibe III was based on flawed studies and “the dam will produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic to both the environment and the indigenous communities living downstream.”
 
The ongoing debate focuses on an under-populated desert region where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan – and the disputed Ilema Triangle – meet. Recent news of the satellite-based discovery of a vast network of subterranean aquifers holding 250 billion cubic meters of fresh water could boost the fortunes of this drought-prone corner of Kenya but will not impact the future of Lake Turkana. Now the fate of the region depends on the ability of Kenya and Ethiopia to jointly manage the waters of the Omo River in the Turkana basin.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid