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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.