Letter from Lake Turkana Communities
Dear Mr. President, Right Hon Prime Minister,
As we face the daily struggle of survival, extreme drought, increased poverty levels and continuous raids from neighboring countries, we are also witnessing “development” discussions that would see our worsen our problems. We watch as our livelihoods diminish, and our insecurity increase. Shockingly, our own government is a party to this plan. To many people Lake Turkana is a miraculous anomaly in a parched and unforgiving land; the world’s largest permanent desert lake, the cradle of mankind. But to us it is our livelihood, our sustenance, our home. It is our fish-farm; it is the water for our animals, our life, our being. It is a place we identify with pride, and a longtime sense of place. It is home to our ancestors. Though it does not feature much as you read out the sources of foreign exchange but it is our “foreign exchange”.
We have recently featured in the media, expressing our opposition to the construction of Gibe III dam. This dam is being constructed upstream on the Omo River (a transboundary river between Kenya and Ethiopia), to produce and export power to Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti, with Kenya being the main purchaser. Kenya’s involvement gives justification that Ethiopia needs to get funding from donor banks. While we understand our country’s need for energy, we do not believe that this energy should be sourced at the expense of over 300,000 citizens of Kenya. If Lake Turkana’s ecology is destroyed, we are looking at increased salinity, a receding lake, a decrease in fish production, increased hunger and poverty. The past few months have seen a big increase in raids at the border, yet we know there is potential for much worse, and this project will exacerbate the problem. When it comes to the Ilemi triangle a land currently disputed over by Sudan-Ethiopia and Kenya, not forgetting grazing rights of the Ugandan communities, an issue that is still so sensitive to be discussed, yet we deny the fact that current flooding patters at the Omo does diffuse the potential conflicts within this region as it allows for pasture to grow.
Mr. President and Right Hon. Prime Minister: Domestic and International experts have verified concerns about the drastic drop in water to the Lake when the dam is filling, as well as the problems in the plan to allow limited amounts of water out of the dam over time to address Lake Turkana’s ecological needs. Dangers that the dam poses as is currently designed, includes, but is not limited to: retreat of Lake Turkana; increase in lake salinity; destruction of indigenous economies; loss of riparian forest and biodiversity; increase in transboundary conflicts; and hampering of livelihood development. We are appalled that, despite the potential impacts of the dam on the lake’s ecosystem and livelihoods, the Government of Kenya continues to pursue power from this bad dam project, and is doing so without proper consultation with the local communities, in violation of international best practice
Right Hon. Prime Minister, in February 2010, you commented on the inability of Kenya to depend on hydropower due to the increased drought, yet Ethiopia is also subject to drought and climate change, thus it does not seem prudent for the government to invest a lot of time and resources in a huge hydro project that faces so much hydrological uncertainty.
Although we commend both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Government for attempting to meet the power needs of both their citizens, if completed, the Gibe III will be the catalyst to further propagate reduction to the already limited resources, and therefore armed conflict in the region. The Kenyan Government’s agreement to continue with the project with total disregard to our communities is an extreme violation of our human rights. By supporting a dam that will cut off the life flow to the Turkana region, the Government of Kenya is complicit in worsening the precarious humanitarian situation facing Northern Kenya.
As citizens of the Republic of Kenya we request the Government to;
- Immediately withdraw their agreement to purchase power from Ethiopia until an independent, comprehensive Environmental Social Impact Assessment has been conducted, and full public hearings and regional consultations on the project have been complete.
- Pursue alternative sources of energy such as geothermal, wind and solar that would not only resolve the power shortages, but would also offer employment to Kenyans.
- Incorporate transboundary management issues in their strategic plans to avoid and resolve current problems as is the case of River Omo which is not recognized by many government officials as transboundary waters.
President Mwai Kibaki, Right Hon. Raila Odinga, while we acknowledge and applaud your fight against corruption, restoration of Mau Forest, we would like to request you to acknowledge the effects of Gibe III on Lake Turkana and the lake communities. While we work to save the water tower that the Mau represents, we cannot condone or support projects that will destroy wetlands like Lake Turkana. Mr. President, Right Hon. Prime Minister; are the issues of northern Kenya of less magnitude than other parts of the country, or ARE WE A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE?