We are Asking UN World Heritage Committee to Save our Lake

Starting tomorrow June 28 till July 8, 2015, the UN World Heritage Committee will meet to discuss the fate of Lake Turkana. In this meeting, the members will decide if to inscribe Lake Turkana into the list of World Heritage in Danger.

This committee has failed several times to inscribe this precious lake in this list despite having acted in the to protect World Heritage sites threatened by dams, including in those in China and Honduras. To us, our Lake is not just a Heritage site, it is our lifeline. Without it many lives will be lost. We, as the local communities, are demanding that this treasure be protected from a human-made disaster.


The main reason why Lake Turkana is in danger is because of the building of the Ethiopian Gibe Dams, particularly Gibe III, and the associated large-scale agricultural irrigation projects in the Lower Omo basin.

We are calling on the World Heritage Committee to finally inscribe Lake Turkana in the endangered list during their meeting. You too can join the petition that our friends at International Rivers have posted online. Click here to sign the petition

“Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Dam” by Chalachew Tadesse, IPS

ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS) – A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend. The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August. Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank. Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month. The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.

Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community. Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km. In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.” Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”. Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant. “The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.” She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years. The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities. Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

Gibe III Reservoirs Have Began Filling,What Next for Lake Turkana? article by International Rivers

Gibe III Reservoir Begins Filling, Launching Lake Turkana’s Slow Decline

Thu, 02/12/2015 –

By: Lori Pottinger

International Rivers has learned that the reservoir behind the huge Gibe III Dam on the Omo River in Ethiopia has begun filling, as revealed by satellite images of the area. The result could be the death of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, which is almost completely dependent on the Omo River for replenishing its water levels. The dam filling process will reduce the lake’s inflow by about two-thirds, for an estimated three years.

Rebecca Arot, a Turkana pastoralist, told International Rivers last year: “We don’t accept this. We disagree with whoever is planning this. We will never agree to it. Once the dam is functional, everything people feed on will disappear. Starvation will take over.”   

Compounding the impacts of the dam is the unsustainable trend of water grabs for irrigated plantations. Many thousands of indigenous people are being pushed off lands they have used for generations; their cleared lands are being planted in thirsty crops such as cotton and sugar, primarily for export.

As documented in past expert analyses by hydrologist Dr. Sean Avery, Dr. David Turton and others, the changes to the river flow from these developments will have grave impacts on people and ecosystems throughout the basin.

Ethiopia has repeatedly and deliberately ignored the ways that Gibe III Dam and associated irrigation schemes will affect downstream livelihoods and Lake Turkana. The Government appeared to acknowledge that there might be impacts by stating at last year’s World Heritage Committee meeting that it would analyze the impacts of the dam and irrigated plantations on Lake Turkana (a World Heritage Site). They promised to deliver the report by February, but at this writing, the World Heritage Centre told us it has no update on the status of this report.

Kenya’s government, too, seems to be taking a “see no evil” approach; there have been no public pronouncements about the need to address this impending water crisis, no announcement of a plan to seek compensation for residents of Turkana, or even meet with them to discuss the impacts of these upstream developments. We recently documented the concerns of Turkana people about the upstream water developments; you’ll find their testimony in “Come and Count Our Bones,” a heartfelt and moving film and report.

Information about the fate of people on the Ethiopia side of the watershed is harder to come by, as repression is high and people fear speaking out about their concerns. A trusted source shared this update on how Omo peoples are faring: “The Kwegu are starving. At the Omo riverbank cultivation sites, south of the dam, the sorghum didn’t grow at all this year; it seems the dam has interrupted flood-retreat agriculture. The Kwegu are in a dire situation. The sugar company has cleared the bush in areas of Northern Mursiland. They are destroying trees that hold beehives used by the Kwegu. North of the dam, harvests are very good for the people who deserted the government’s resettlement villages.” A report from a field visit last year by a photographer who is documenting the lives of Kara women gives a first-hand look at the land and water grabs’ impact on the Kara people. 

A Kara woman who visited the dam on a government-sponsored field trip said: “I went to see the dam along with other Omo people. It is huge. I was scared. The water behind the dam is huge. I was really sad. There will be no water for us. When this river comes high it brings food for us. If we lose our river, no option, we will die. All the crocodiles and fish will die. Everything will die.”

While the people of the Omo are already seeing changes in river flow, it will take longer for the hydrological changes to Lake Turkana to be felt, but they will be dire and longlasting. The Omo River contributes approximately 90% of Lake Turkana’s inflows. Water levels in the lake are expected to drop approximately 2 meters during the first 2-3 years of the dam filling. Reservoir filling will virtually erase the seasonal flow changes in the river, which are vital for Lake Turkana’s ecosystem functions. The floods provide a cue for fish spawning, inundate productive habitat for young fish, and bring nutrients and fresh water into the lake.

The pace of change coming to the Omo basin and Lake Turkana is rapid and unrelenting, with little thought to the negative ripple effects these industrial-scale developments will bring. Ethiopia’s need for development is high, but irresponsible and unjust investments such as those taking over the Lower Omo can only set the nation back. There is a real concern that conflict and hunger will grow for the people who call the area home, as they compete for shrinking natural resources.

The point of no return for the peoples and ecosystems of the Omo and Lake Turkana is fast approaching. Ethiopia should stop the filling of the dam and put all future water abstractions on hold until an integrated water-resources management plan for all the water developments in the Lower Omo is completed. Such a plan should be guided by a legitimate region-wide environmental and socio-economic impact analysis that considers all developments in the region, and involve all affected peoples and civil society.

But because Ethiopia has shown such recalcitrance in addressing the problems these schemes are creating, it seems pressure must come from the donor governments and institutions that support Ethiopia. Now that the reservoir is filling, and no mitigation plans are in sight, donors should not sit idly by while one of their largest aid recipients is spreading hunger and conflict in the region. The consequences of inaction will be a huge unraveling of the good work that aid monies are intended to support.


More information on the original article

“We Cannot Eat Electricity:The Fight for Lake Turkana”

The plight of downstream communities likely to be adversely affected by development projects in Ethiopia has been met with a deaf ear by those with the most power to protect them. The Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments could have considered their marginalized, before coming up with plans to build the Gibe III dam and irrigation plantations along the Omo River or making power purchase agreements from such unjust development projects.

Now that Gibe III dam is almost complete the only hope for the 300,000 Kenyans dependent on Lake Turkana is that the water is managed to ensure they maintain a semblance of their livelihood. The Goldman Environmental Prize team captured some of the sentiments expressed by the communities in the Lake Turkana Basin and leaders fighting for the rights of these people. 

Ikal Angelei, Founder and Executive Director (Friends of Lake Turkana) and 2012 Goldman Prize Winner had this to say about the ongoing projects 

“While we understand and appreciate the attractiveness for building dams for electricity as green energy, we need to recognize the impact of these ‘green developments’ on local communities; from increasing poverty because of loss of lands, to increased conflicts over less grazing and water,” Angelei said. “Many times now hydroelectric dams are used to provide water for large plantations, further exacerbating the loss of indigenous lands and increasing poverty.”


Read more on this link: http://goldmanprize.org/blog/we-cannot-eat-electricity-fight-lake-turkana

“Can Lake Turkana Be Saved?” by Lori Pottinger

Sean Avery is a man on a mission. The Kenya-based hydrologist and civil engineer is the leading authority on the hydrological workings of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, and he’s extremely worried about its future.

The cause for his concern is a boom in river-crippling projects being built upstream in Ethiopia, on a river that is the primary water source for the lake. The huge Gibe III Dam and related irrigation developments now under construction in the Lower Omo Valley will regulate and divert large quantities of the lake’s inflow into the lake, which could dry up a good portion of this ancient water body and forever change its ecological balance, its thriving fisheries, and the landscape around it. For hundreds of thousands of people who call the lake environment home, these changes could bring a slow death of their livelihoods and communities.

It is hard to believe that the planet could lose another of its big lakes from human hubris, but Lake Turkana is indeed set to become the next Lake Chad or Aral Sea, both of which lie near death from ill-conceived water diversions and dams. If the world allows Lake Turkana to become “Turkana Pond,” we will lose a startling emerald jewel of a lake in a vast desert; rich biodiversity that borders on the prehistoric, and unique communities and cultures that reflect back on this distinctive place.

Dr. Avery, who’s been visiting Lake Turkana for more than three decades, has spent the past few years steadily documenting how these upstream developments could lead to its ecocide. His latest report, “What Future for Lake Turkana“, recently published by Oxford University’s African Studies Centre, is a clear-eyed, unyielding, scientifically grounded cry for help.

The irrigation schemes are the wild card. If the government’s grandiose plans come to fruition, the lake will certainly die. Avery notes that just one of the irrigated plantations being implemented in the Lower Omo is almost equal to the entire current irrigated area of Kenya, stating: “Irrigation development on this scale will require a huge rate of water abstraction from the Omo… up to 50 percent of the lake’s inflow could be abstracted for irrigation alone.” He calculates that such abstractions will drop the 30-meter-deep lake’s level by 20 meters.

The state-run Ethiopian Sugar Corporation intends to develop 150,000 hectares of irrigated sugar plantations in the Lower Omo. Thousands of agro-pastoralist people are being pushed off their lands and into government villages for these developments, and being told to learn how to become sedentary “modern” farmers. Vast tracts of land have also been taken from existing protected areas. Other lands have been allocated to private investors. The Omo Valley has become the site not just of Ethiopia’s largest water grab, but also a vast land grab, where well-connected Ethiopians and international investors are making moves to develop big plantations, mostly for export crops and sugar, while human rights abuses of local people escalate.

Because the consequences of these profligate irrigation abstractions were not mentioned in any of the environmental impact assessments commissioned by the dam builders, Dr. Avery began assessing them in a detailed 2010 report for the African Development Bank. Next he wrote a lengthy and detailed update to this, having gotten new, more shocking information about the extent of irrigation planned for the Lower Omo. Like many strong but “technical” scientific reports, his past reports have not had a wide audience. His new report is targeted for the rest of us: written for non-scientists, shorter, graphically beautiful. It’s time for the rest of us to pay attention.

Where to from here?
Sean Avery is not alone in his effort to try to turn this story around. Many academics and activists have been warning of the dire consequences these projects will cause if they continue as planned. A recent article in the Kenyan newspaper The Star quotes veteran archaeologist Dr. Richard Leakey on the risks: “This is a global disaster in waiting. Lake Turkana is going to dry up.” Friends of Lake Turkana, a Kenyan NGO, has been campaigning for many years to register local peoples’ concerns and stir political action from Kenya. Human Rights Watch, Oakland InstituteSurvival International and my own organization are just a few that have been working to raise awareness on the situation in recent years. UNEP recently launched an effort to bring the two governments together to discuss how to share this important river.

All of these efforts would be nearly impossible without the careful work of the Dr. Averys of the world.

As we reach the knife’s edge of decision-making on developments in the Omo, there is still time for Ethiopia to make changes that could save Lake Turkana.

A first step would be to undertake integrated water-resources management planning for the Lower Omo. This would establish the water needs of all stakeholders in the basin (including ecosystems), analyze the carrying capacity of the river in regards to future dams and plantations, and change development plans to meet these needs. Given the likelihood that Gibe III will be completed (it is about 75 percent complete now), the process could also review the potential for environmental flows — a system for managing the quantity and timing of water flows below a dam to sustain ecosystems and human livelihoods that depend on them.

Such an ambitious basin-management process would require unprecedented cooperation and openness for these two governments. Yet the stakes are so high, the evidence so clear, that it’s hard to imagine the impasse will continue, and the blinders will stay on. We’ll be watching and waiting from the sidelines, with every hope that Dr. Avery won’t, in the end, need to say “I told you so” about Lake Turkana. 


Follow Lori Pottinger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/loripottinger_r

Omo Valley Communities to Suffer the Repercussions of Gibe III Dam

When governments come up with huge projects that are geared towards solving the economic struggles of a vast majority, what naturally follows is celebration among the citizens. After all it is the job of every government to better the lives of its populace both economically and socially. However, when the Ethiopian government came up with the grand plan of building the biggest dam in Sub Saharan Africa, there was not much to smile about. Not for Ethiopia’s local poor.

In July 2006, The Ethiopian government signed a contract with an Italian construction company, Salini Construttori to build the controversy laden Gibe III dam. This was the beginning of many worries for those who live along the Omo Delta and further down to the Kenyan communities who are largely dependent on Lake Turkana.

But what do Lake Turkana, Gibe III dam and the Omo Valley tribes have to do with each other, you might ask? They are all dependent on the Omo River in one way or another. Gibe III dam will block the south western part of the Omo River and put an end to its natural flood cycle. The Omo River floods every year in August or September. The Grand project geared towards generating huge amounts of electricity, poses a great threat to the livelihoods of these people and the natural resources they depend on.

Fast forward to over a half a dozen years later, and the construction is over 70% complete. All amidst the cries and constant resistance against the project by: Ethiopian, Kenyan and international bodies.

Projects such as the Gibe III dam are seen to rarely benefit the communities that live around the areas where they are located. Instead the huge amount of electricity produced is used for commercial purposes such as: export to neighbouring countries and supplied to big companies like factories that require a lot of electricity to be in operation.

The case in Ethiopia is no different from other Mega dam projects in different parts of the world. Aside from diverting the waters of the mighty Omo River, Gibe III will not only halt its annual flooding pattern but will later be used to irrigate large plantations leased to foreign companies for export and sugarcane plantations that are going to be run by the government.

The annual flooding pattern of the Omo River is very important to the Southern communities of Ethiopia. They depend on it for planting foods like maize and sorghum which go a long way in sustaining the population. They have devised sophisticated ecological practices that involve alternating between, pastoralism, fishing and cultivation. When the river floods, a bonus is fertile silt deposits that nurture the plants with the nutrients they need to grow. The six Omo Valley communities are: Daasanach, Kwegu, Kara, Bodi, Mursi and Nyangatom. Fishing which is one of their alternative sources of food is now under threat as the fish stocks are in danger of dipping to an all time low.

To add insult to injury, there have been incidents reported of forced and sometimes violent evictions of people from the land to be later used for large scale plantations by the Ethiopian government. These allegations have been met with a lot of resistance and denial. Unfortunately, this is just one of the elements of the bleak picture painted for those who are likely to be affected by the Gibe III dam project.

The continued construction of the dam has got hundreds of thousands of people both in Kenya and Ethiopia fearing for their lives, with the possibility of their lifeblood being snatched away. The government of Ethiopia however, insists that the ongoing project will have minimal impact on the environment and that the vast tracts of land to be used for sugarcane and cotton plantations are scarcely populated.

What remains a mystery is whether the government will ever back down from the pressure that is coming from local and international bodies. The key recommendations that have been given are, that an Environmental Impact Analysis is done and the people, ecology and biodiversity of the area and those outside of the country connected to it, be given serious consideration in the bid for economic development.

Are Mega Dam Projects Really a Solution For the Masses?

For the past 5 years, various organizations including; Friends of Lake Turkana and International Rivers among others have been united in the fight to stop the construction of Gibe III dam. This has been a struggle against not only the Ethiopian Government’s mega project, but also big organizations such as the World Bank who bring in huge funding to ensure the reality of such mega projects.

Organisations such as Friends of Lake Turkana have been fighting to bring attention to the The World Bank, Africa Development Bank and European Investment Bank who are among those interested in funding the Grand Inga dam projects and the smaller dam projects that culminate in it.

Such key lenders have for decades come up with grand scale projects such as these to provide quick solutions for the masses. However, according to many NGOs around the world, the benefits of these projects have hardly trickled down to the countries’ poor. In Congo, for instance, despite the existence of mega dams like the grand Inga dam, only 8-9 percent of the population has access to electricity while about 85 percent is consumed by the mining industry; this is according to an article by Peter Bosshard.

These projects range from huge dams for hydroelectric power generation, to Major irrigation schemes that take up thousands of hectares of land. Similar projects have been undertaken in many African countries rich in resources such as water and minerals, and those with a huge capacity to produce electricity through wind power and geothermal energy.

Some of those who have been and are likely to be affected by these projects are the indigenous minority of a country and those who are so poor; they hardly have a voice against their government. The motivation for a government’s hard stance on sustaining and ensuring that these projects push through is, first and foremost, the economic gains that are promised.

With such mammoth investments comes the prospect of equally massive profits. In a capitalist society, it is easy to push aside other concerns like preservation of the ecosystem and the livelihoods of those dependent on it. ‘Rational’ solutions like resettlement of those who are in the way of a mega project are made without any regard to the change in lifestyle and culture of those directly affected.

A case in point is the various indigenous tribes living along the Omo River, Omo valley and its environs. The Mursi, Karo (Kara), Hamar and Kwegu, are some of the tribes dependent on the seasonal floods coming from the Omo River. Some of these tribesmen are said to be forcibly resettled and in some cases severe methods of violence used to move them. These military methods are employed instead of more friendly alternatives like diplomacy and trying to figure out how to strike a balance between financial development and preservation of long standing cultures and traditions.

The World Environment day just recently highlighted the need to ‘Think. Eat. Save’, it is prudent for individuals, communities, organizations and governments alike, to think of the planet’s future before making major ecosystem-changing decisions and save it from impending degradation. Anything that can protect the environment and its occupants from the danger of ruin is worth a try. Going green is not just a fad but the solution to many of the world’s problems. Save the planet. Save humanity.

Dams and Impunity: What Next, Ethiopia?

As the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Egypt meet today at Addis Ababa to try to unlock a diplomatic deadlock – one with far greater implications than just diplomacy – over Ethiopia’s plans to build a dam on one of the River Nile’s major tributaries, a question arises as to whether Ethiopia has become too arrogant in its attempt to rejuvenate its economic growth.

The dam in question is the Grand Renaissance Dam being constructed along the Blue Nile River. If completed, this will be among the largest dams in the world and will join another rising colossus that is also under construction by the Ethiopians along the Omo River – the Gilgel Gibe III Dam. Ethiopia has already started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile as part of the construction process despite protests and thinly veiled threats of ‘water wars’ coming from the Egyptian government.

Perhaps the strongest sign that water wars are looming between the two countries is that immediately after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in May, Ethiopia announced that it was diverting the waters. What this could mean is that Ethiopia will forge on with their dam unfazed by any contrary opinion – even if their forging ahead threatens to catastrophically alter the existence of millions of people downstream.

Drawing parallels to Egypt’s unfortunate situation with that facing Lake Turkana owing to the ongoing construction of Gibe III Dam along the Omo River – which contributes about 90% of all the water of Lake Turkana – one cannot fail to see a pattern of impunity in the Ethiopian Government: a government that will execute hugely disruptive projects without concern for contrary opinion even when such opinion is based on fact.

The repetitive chorus chanted by Ethiopia that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not affect the flow of the Nile, is the same empty rhetoric that has been applied in the case of Gibe III and Lake Turkana yet scientific evidence clearly shows that the Gibe dam will have a disastrous effect on Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Lower Omo Basin in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia also claims that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not be used for irrigation but only for Electricity generation. Nobody should believe that given that that is the same thing they say about Gibe III – and all consequent Gibes planned downstream of this third dam – yet we know that huge tracts of land in the Lower Omo have already been wrestled from indigenous Ethiopian populations and leased out to Asian entities to be converted into sugar and cotton plantations. Only a lunatic would believe that Ethiopia will not use the dam water for irrigation.

What then is the option for Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya? These three African sisters – and all other nations in the world – should ponder on the big question of water scarcity that is escalating with the increasing severity of the effects of climate change and Africa’s burgeoning populations. Currently, Egypt and Ethiopia have a combined population of almost 170-million people and this is projected to increase by another 100-million people by 2050. That can only mean that, climate change notwithstanding, water will definitely become an extremely dear commodity for both nations. Kenya on the other hand has more than 40-million thirsty inhabitants, a significant fraction of whom will be directly affected by the adverse effect of the Gibe III Dam on Lake Turkana.

Better ways of managing shared water and other natural resources are long overdue. If Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya are to properly harness their water resources, mutually beneficial resource sharing methods have to be thought out and quickly implemented. Respect for the lives and well-being of downstream populations has to be paramount. Impunity has to end.

Ethiopia Refuses to Cooperate With World-Bank-Funding Probe

On 28 May 2013, William Davison published an article on Bloomberg pointing to Ethiopia’s government’s refusal to cooperate in a probe that seeks to establish whether the World Bank flouted it’s own policies by funding a plantation project that will result in forced resettlement of some 45,000 households in the country’s southwestern Gambella region. The report reads, in part, as follows:
Ethiopia, Africa’s most-populous nation after Nigeria, has made 3.3 million hectares (8.2 million acres) of land available to agriculture companies. Photographer: Jenny Vaughan/AFP/Getty Images
Ethiopia’s government said it won’t cooperate with a probe into whether the World Bank violated its own policies by funding a program in which thousands of people were allegedly relocated to make way for agriculture investors.
Ethnic Anuak people in Ethiopia’s southwestern Gambella region and rights groups including Human Rights Watch last year accused the Washington-based lender of funding a program overseen by soldiers to forcibly resettle 45,000 households. The Inspection Panel of the World Bank, an independent complaints mechanism, began an investigation in October into the allegations, which donors and the government have denied.
“We are not going to cooperate with the Inspection Panel,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said in a phone interview on May 22. “To an extent that there’s a need for cooperation, it’s not going to be with the Inspection Panel, but with the World Bank”
Ethiopia, Africa’s most-populous nation after Nigeria, has made 3.3 million hectares (8.2 million acres) of land available to agriculture companies. Investors include Karuturi Global Ltd. (KARG) of India, the world’s largest rose grower, and companies owned by Saudi billionaire Mohamed al-Amoudi.
There is a “plausible link” between the Promoting Basic Services program, partly funded by the bank to pay the salaries of local government workers, and a resettlement process also known as villagization in Gambella, the panel said in a Nov. 19 report obtained by Bloomberg News. The World Bank confirmed the authenticity of the report…


Chinese loans could fuel regional conflict in East Africa

Dam and irrigation projects could spark “bloody and persistent” conflict, suggests Peter Bosshard of International Rivers.

a tribal man from Ethiopia's Lower Omo River Basin. (Image by Alison M. Jones for www.nowater-nolife.org)China has made great efforts to support poverty reduction in Africa, and likes to present itself as a friend of the African people. But loans for contentious dam and irrigation projects now threaten to pull China into an explosive regional conflict between well-armed groups in Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The Lower Omo Valley in south-west Ethiopia and Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya are marked by a harsh climate and unique, fragile ecosystems. They are home to 12 indigenous peoples, one of the largest remaining wildlife migrations, and some of the earliest remains of the human species.

The region is currently being transformed by one of Africa’s biggest and most controversial infrastructure ventures. Once completed, the Gibe III hydropower project will dam the Omo River to generate electricity with a capacity of 1,870 megawatts. It will also allow the irrigation of 2,450 square kilometres of sugar plantations, which are currently being developed on indigenous lands and in national parks.

Scientific report documents looming environmental disaster

The dam and irrigation projects have been debated for many years. Reports commissioned and prepared by the African Development Bank, International Rivers, the World Heritage Committee and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority have documented their impacts on the fragile ecosystems of the Lower Omo River and Lake Turkana, the 500,000 indigenous people who depend on them, and the unique cultural heritage of this cradle of humankind.

A new scientific study published by the NGO International Rivers explores the social and environmental impacts of the project in detail, and examines the knock-on effects of the impending ecological crisis on the security of the volatile border region of Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The study confirms that Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, almost completely depends on the inflows from the Omo River, and that the lake’s unique ecosystems and fisheries are closely linked to the river’s annual flood cycle.

The dam and sugar plantations will affect this ecosystem in several ways. The dam will interrupt the annual flood of the Omo River, which sustains the agriculture, grazing lands and fisheries of the region. The filling of the Gibe III reservoir will lower the water level of Lake Turkana by two metres. The sugar plantations will divert at least 28% of the Omo River’s annual flow, and lower the lake’s water level by at least 13 metres. Read more…