“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

“Wind Powers ‘Green’ Growth in Kenya, but for Whom?” by Chris Williams

Wind Powers “Green” Growth in Kenya, but for Whom?

by Chris Williams / April 2nd, 2015

Barely discernible among the surrounding rock-strewn ground, a meandering dirt track winds its way up a barren, windswept hill. In the arid heat, dotted amid the dry ocher soil, the rocks look baked from the sun. A few stubby trees and scrubby bushes bestrew a landscape with no obvious signs of habitation in this parched land of northern Kenya. But on top of the hill, sitting behind a low wall made of the abundant stones that litter the ground, we find six men. They have been living on the hill for eight years. Every two weeks, food and water is brought up by the consortium that pays them to keep watch on top of the hill, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP).

The incessant wind, gusting relentlessly across the plain, is the reason we’re all here. Shimmering in the heat, Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world, and a United Nations World Heritage Site due to its astonishing collection of hominid fossils dating back 2 million years, glistens in the far distance. The area surrounding the lake is a treasure chest for the study of human evolution, a place where Austrolophithecus anamensis, Homo habilis/rudolfensis, Paranthropus boisei, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens are all found in one location.

One wonders whether wind power for the capital is the answer to the villagers’ development needs.

The lake itself, threatened by the construction of the $1.8 billion Gibe III mega-dam across the border in Ethiopia, is the breeding ground for Nile crocodile, a habitat for hippopotamuses and snakes, and an important site for several species of migrating birds. It’s also home to thousands of nomadic herders and fishers from different tribes in a remote region with only a tenuous connection to the Kenyan state. All of that may well be about to change.

Ljukunye Lepasanti, the liaison officer between LTWP and the surrounding community, tells me he and 28 other workers have been living on top of the hill for the last eight years. “We are here to guard these towers that record wind speed,” says Ljukunye, pointing to one of two tall metal towers on another hill, closer to Lake Turkana. Though the project had been stalled for several years due to a lack of foreign investment, eventually there will be a road built here, and 365 large wind turbines capable of generating a total of 310 megawatts to feed into the Kenyan grid for power to Nairobi. After eight years, does he still believe the wind farm will be built? “Yes, I think so, they are coming to survey the road soon.” Ljukunye’s faith seems justified, as final approval for a financing deal was hammered out at the end of 2014 and documents were signed to begin work in 2015.

Electric Power for Whom?

We are more than 400 kilometers north of Nairobi, where the electricity will be delivered. Many kilometers before the proposed site of the wind farm, the Chinese-built paved road ends before the small sleepy little village of South Horr. The minimally used, shifting dirt and sand road, which winds its way north from South Horr, crosses a flood plain before ascending between towering mountain peaks, twisting and turning along the designated route for the power transmission lines. Before the wind turbines can be brought for assembly at the site, more than 200 kilometers of road have to be either upgraded or built from scratch to get to this isolated region of northern Kenya.

The wind turbines themselves will be offloaded at the port of Mombasa, 1,200 kilometers away. It’s a daunting feat of engineering that makes one wonder: If such a plan is being mooted for a region with so little in the way of modern infrastructure, what should be possible in the developed world? One also wonders, after speaking with local people in the surrounding area, particularly the about-to-be-displaced inhabitants of the Turkana village of Sirima, whether wind power for the capital, along with the associated transmission lines and road construction, is the answer to the villagers’ development needs or priorities. 

As the majority of Kenyan power comes from hydroelectricity, climate change is already impacting electrical output and reliability.

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) consortium is made up of developers and investors KP&P Africa B.V., Aldwych International, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd (Finnfund), Industrial Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), KLP Norfund Investments, Vestas Eastern Africa (VEAL) and investors Sandpiper. It’s slated to be the biggest wind project in Africa and, at 70 billion Kenyan shillings (over $760 million), the largest private investment in Kenyan history.

The wind farm is the flagship segment of the Kenyan government’s Vision 2030, which, among other things, is set to enhance electricity production to 5,000 megawatts through domestic means (along with power from the Gibe III dam), and further develop the country via agricultural exports and tourism. The government’s Vision 2030 is based on ensuring extremely rapid economic growth of 10 percent per year to 2030, resting on economic, social and political pillars “to transform Kenya into a newly industrialising, ‘middle-income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030.’”

Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa, in a region of geostrategic importance, but suffers from a dearth of electrical production. In fact, only 18 percent of Kenyans have electricity. For those who have access, supply is unreliable: Power blackouts and failures take place with some regularity. As the majority of Kenyan power comes from hydroelectricity, climate change is already impacting electrical output and reliability, a circumstance that is only projected to worsen.

The 310-megawatt wind farm, which will occupy 40,000 acres around Lake Turkana in Loyangalani District, Marsabit West County, one of the poorest counties in Kenya, equates to 20 percent of Kenya’s currently existing electricity supply and is part of the plan to overcome electricity shortages, which will become more acute as climate change progresses and the projected economic development of the country accelerates. Whether the 82 percent of Kenyans currently without electricity will be the recipients of any of the electricity generated by the wind farm, or whether locals around Marsabit and from the village of Sirima will see any of the jobs or wealth to be created, is another question entirely.

“Long Time Since Regular Rain”

According to the Turkana people we meet in the village of Sirima, due to be moved to make way for the road and wind farm, there used to be regular rains every six months and the locality, unlike today, was always quite green. Now it’s often dry for two to three years at a time, such that even the animals, which are their livelihood as pastoralists, are beginning to sicken. Elder Kwaruk Losike tells us, “It’s been a long time since the regular rains. But now it’s even drier. The small things we try to grow in our shambas (gardens) don’t grow.” The 1,200 people in the village are there because the rest of the community, numbering around an additional 3,000, is away herding their livestock, since, despite a solar-powered borehole well drilled by aid agencies, it’s too dry around Sirima for so many animals.

While the Turkana of Sirima are currently on friendly terms with the Samburu from the neighboring county, villagers say that they have lost animals to drought and also to raiding by the Pokot and Samburu. Village elders tell us that, as pastoralists, they cannot live without their livestock, but water for their animals, their plants (they have been trying to grow maize, beans, onions and sorghum) and themselves is in very short supply – and salty. During the most desperate times, some food is supplied by aid agencies.

 “There were meetings, some people first came in 2008 and began telling us about a road and a wind farm.”

According to the wind power consortium’s website, the “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is being finalised based on extensive input from the communities in order to ensure that livelihoods are improved; LTWP will use a combination of revenue from carbon credits and profit to form and fund a trust, which will ensure a well targeted plan over the 20 years of the investment.” However, the World Bank, in their Resettlement Policy Framework document lists negative aspects of the wind farm that will include “loss of land acquisition, loss of asset, loss of trees and crops, loss of income, and loss of livelihood.”

After sweet chai and honey-soaked flat bread in the center of the village of South Horr, in a shaded garden behind an irregular wooden fence, I meet with Chief of South Horr Alex Lempirias and Assistant Chief Charles Lekaldero to find out what they know of community consultation. “There were meetings, some people first came in 2008 and began telling us about a road and a wind farm.” Asked if they would be getting electricity in South Horr, Lempirias was unsure. “The first thing we asked, ‘what about the locals? Are we going to get the power?’ So he told me this is a question that will come later,” Lempirias said. “There was not that guarantee you shall have it before it reaches the national grid,” even though the transmission line will go directly past South Horr. There is no electricity in South Horr, other than one shop with solar panels, which people use to charge their cell phones; use of the solar panels costs 50 Kenyan shillings per day, a significant sum. Lekaldero added, “I don’t know if there were any other forums that we never attended that they talked about [electricity for South Horr]. But the forums that I have personally attended, we just talked about the employment and about the CSR. That’s what we only talked [about] in the meetings that I attended. Me, personally.”

The chiefs, who are Samburu, anticipate that they will receive 50 percent of the profits from the carbon credits that will be generated by the wind farm; profits for sale of the electricity go to the Kenyan government. They also hope for 40 unskilled jobs for locals, and compensation for people whose houses have to be moved because of the road and the dust from construction. Their community priorities for use of the profits are “health, education and work. Those are our priorities. Like the community behind here,” says Lempirias, pointing up a distant hill, “that’s about 100 households and no [health] dispensary at the center. They come about 50 kilometers up to here” to reach the nearest health clinic. If they don’t walk the 50 kilometers, he adds, a car to the clinic costs 20,000 Kenyan shillings. With the building of the road, their major concern for their community is the influx of trucks and construction workers, all the water and food they would require, the different cultures coming in and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV and AIDS, for an uneducated and isolated community such as theirs.

Local Concerns

While the Samburu chiefs in far off South Horr felt relatively confident that they would be treated fairly and compensated appropriately with money and jobs, the three young Turkana women that we met as we came down the hillside where the workers were living on the proposed wind farm site, walking to collect water with their donkeys, threatened to beat us with sticks if we were from the project.

Under the new Kenyan Constitution adopted in 2010, whether there will be compensation for land, housing or loss of grazing land depends on whether the people living there have legal title to the land. According to chapter 5 of the constitution, land should be “held, used and managed in a manner that is equitable, efficient, productive and sustainable.” Due to their longevity on the land, one would think that the pastoralists who live on the land around Marsabit and in other areas of Kenya have been exhibiting all of those features since well before the arrival of the British colonialists.

“Expropriation of land is a very important aspect in land management.”

However, from the perspective of a state whose stated aim is 10 percent economic growth per year, and international financial institutions more than willing to help see that vision come true (at the appropriate rates of interest, naturally), what the pastoralists do with the land is neither productive nor efficient. The constitution designates land as either public, private or community land. Unregistered “trust” land, land held by traditional African customary right of tenure, is held “in trust” by the relevant county government. Though the World Bank notes that the Kenyan Constitution does not speak directly to land acquisition and expropriation, nevertheless the World Bank states that, for Kenya, “Expropriation of land is a very important aspect in land management in that it is the instrument by which land is availed for various development needs e.g. Infrastructure, Housing, Dams and Irrigation, or Industrial purposes if the development and utilisation of the said land is to promote public benefit.”

Though the chiefs in South Horr described the land as empty, with people only grazing their cattle during the rainy season, despite the dryness of the ground, we see sheep and goats being herded by Turkana all across the area of the proposed wind farm. The consortium has agreed not to fence the entire site, only individual wind turbines and the substation. One source of resentment is already evident. Of the 29 workers watching the two wind towers, 26 are Samburu, whereas only three are Turkana. Though the wind farm is on Turkana land, members of the Samburu tribal group are better connected politically than the Turkana, and so seem to have the lion’s share of the current jobs, making future conflict all too possible in such a desperately poor area with a history of conflict over livestock and access to water.

After the encounter with the Turkana women, we drive to the large Turkana village of Sirima, which is going to have to be moved, at least temporarily, to make way for road construction. Due to the extreme aridity of the dry season, herding occurs over tens of miles. Pastoralists range from living permanently in fixed settlements, semi-nomadic – with their semi-permanent homes, called manyatta, made of sticks, hides, dung and rope from the acacia tree – to roaming over large distances with their flocks and herds of goats, sheep, cattle and camels.

We enter Sirima through the traditional fence that surrounds dwellings made of thorny brush to keep out animals and provide defense against livestock raiders. We are taken to the meeting tree and sit down as members of the village gather. Women sit on one side, men on the other. We sit and talk with two elders, Simon Edukon Ekitoe, a former chief, and Kwaruk Losike, as well as a young elder, Lopeyok Logilae. Kitonga, my translator and warrior from the Maasai, speaks mostly in Swahili. A young man stands up to translate into Turkana and repeat both sides of our conversation, people’s mic-style, to the more 100 villagers sitting around the tree.

“Everything is happening with outside people, not with Turkana, even though it’s Turkana land.”

The elders lead the conversation around my questions about the wind power project and how much they know about it. Eight years previously, people came to tell them they would have to move half the village that was closest to the road, though now they have been told they will have to move the entire village more than a kilometer away. They were promised water, and three boreholes have been dug, but the water is salty and some distance from the village. In addition, the solar-powered well doesn’t work well enough on cloudy days, providing only a trickle of water that’s not enough for the many animals that are now brought to the main borehole, which has a storage tank. They did not want to move away from the road because they depend on it for supplies and if someone is sick, but they said they had several meetings with representatives of the consortium to discuss moving. In addition to the water, they were promised a school and a clinic, as well as the building of a market. What they’d really like, Simon tells me, is a wire fence around the village.

Since the last meeting in November 2014, the elders say the village has decided that this is their land and they should be compensated by the consortium for its use. As it’s their land, they believe they should be the first priority, but it doesn’t look like that to them. The elders continue and say they have yet to raise this with the company. According to the elders, the company has said that they will train people to be part of whatever activities take place along the road or for whatever businesses emerge.

By the second hour of the meeting, after finding out more about why we are there and describing the situation with the wind turbines and road, the villagers, through the chiefs, begin to air their grievances and concerns. They note that Samburus are being brought in to do the jobs, not local people and not Turkana. As another village man says, they are upset because “everything is happening with outside people, not with Turkana, even though it’s Turkana land.”

While they don’t yet know the effect of the wind turbines on their animals, having no experience with them, they have been told that they can graze their livestock around the turbines. They have been stopped from building any new manyatta along the road for the last eight years, even though nothing has happened. If they get the things they were promised, they will be happy, but they have heard that people from another tribe, the Rendille, have demonstrated about the wind turbines but, because the Rendille are far away, the Turkana are not sure why they did so.

One of the reasons the Turkana accepted the project here is because they heard about the oil project on the other side of Lake Turkana from Turkana who live there. The oil development by Tullow Oil on the other side of the lake is in fact controversial and the subject of a dispute over who is really going to benefit from the extraction and subsequent burning of fossil fuels, none of which are currently used by the Turkana.

The elders tell us that the company came and took photographs of every person in front of their house. Former chief Simon sends someone to fetch some documents from his manyatta. He returns with papers from the company, titled “Lake Turkana Wind Power Limited.” They are in English, which no one in the village can read, and signed with thumbprints to represent “Acknowledgement of Relocation of Project Affected Structures (Manyatta’s).”

What the villagers don’t know is that as of November 2014, they have now been classified as project affected persons (PAPs) by one of the funders, the African Development Bank, whereby: “The Sirima village is located within the proposed LTWP wind farm site previously designated Trust Land and now leased to LTWP, under a 33 year term, renewable up to 99 years. Under the previous designation ‘Trust Land’ it was managed under the District administration for and on behalf of the community. Consequently, the PAPs\nomadic pastoralist have customary rights of use to land pastures, however, have no recognizable legal right or claim to the land other than use and are therefore not eligible for land compensation. There are no land tenure issues for the nomadic communities as LTWP has accepted the cultural ‘right of use’ tenure for grazing livestock and traversing LTWP’s land.”

Which is to say, it’s no longer their land, nor do they have any right to compensation for its use, because it’s been leased to Lake Turkana Wind Farm Project for the next 99 years.

The elders, along with some villagers, take me to the place where they have been told they’ll have to move. It’s a much smaller area than where they are, which means their manyattas will have to be closer together than they build them. Unlike where they currently are, they point to the ground and highlight all the rocks, which will make it unsafe for their children and old people. In addition, it’s in a depression in the ground, surrounded by low hillocks, meaning it will be easy for raiders to surprise them and steal cattle. They tell me lots of water drains here during the rainy season, so it will be muddy and unsafe from falling rocks. A single corrugated iron pit toilet built by the consortium, but which nobody uses, sits in solitary isolation in the middle of the desiccated and rocky ground.

In many ways Kenya, a country that waged a successful liberation struggle against a ruthless and brutal colonial occupier, presents a similar trajectory to recent analysis of economic development in Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia, in succumbing to the forces of globalized capital. With a patina of development as “green” and rhetorical flourishes in official documents toward notions of “sustainable development” and “community engagement,” in reality, decision-making has been taken out of the hands of local people at the behest of capital accumulation directed toward tourism, industrialized agricultural production for export, and electricity for the development of a “modern market-based” state and urban Kenyans. Meanwhile, for pastoral and rural Kenyans, the fight to control their own land, in their own interests, continues.

Find the rest of the story from our source and the original article posted on Truthout

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

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project Expected to Come Online by 2016

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) got its full funding by close of 2014. It will cost a whooping $694 million contributed by the various investors: Africa Development Bank, Aldwych International and Standard Bank. The wind farm once online, will produce 300MW of electricity and is estimated to begin by 2016. LTWP project is the largest private investment in Kenyan history. It will also have the largest number of wind turbines in the entire continent, beating 300MW Tarfaya Wind Farm in Morocco.

Besides the fact the it will increase electricity production in the country, employment opportunities for the locals will be available, especially during the development phase whilst greatly improving infrastructure (especially roads) in the region. The project is both green and using renewable energy which should be applauded. However, there is contention among the locals on acquisition of the land in which the wind farm will sit. There have been allegations of irregularities in transforming community land to private land without clear processes. The local citizens laying claim to the property have complained about not been consulted about the leasing or given an opportunity to have a say on transfer of the 40,000 acres to private developers. 

Ikal Angelei had this to say about the  wind power project, “While we applaud the efforts for green energy, we would appreciate the sense of transparency in the projects so that PPPs in the continent are not neo-colonial projects. Citizens and communities should be informed on these development projects but most of all, we would like to ensure the green energy does not push for projects that do not follow due -diligence.” she said.

More on the current developments in the project on CNN

Community voices from the Lake Turkana Basin communities (International Rivers)

International Rivers, a partner organization to Friends of Lake Turkana, sent a researcher to the Lake Turkana Basin late last year to gather the sentiments and expectations of the people dependent on Lake Turkana in light of the ongoing Omo River developments. What resulted was the documentary, ‘Community Voices of Lake Turkana’ and a report ‘Come and count our bones’. The two were launched in early January in the International Rivers website and go a long way to show the human impacts of these developments that did not consider downstream communities.

Lake Turkana is a lifeline for over 300,000 Kenyans within the basin and the predicted impacts of Gibe III dam and irrigation plantations further south of River Omo will have adverse effects on their social and economic lives and likely spark violence over the consequently fewer resources.

More on this here

“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