Friends of Lake Turkana founder Ikal Angelei explains how she started the campaign to stop the construction of Gibe 3 dam. From the inspiration by Dr Richard Leakey to the return to Turkana to understand the needs of the people.
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By Ellie Peters (BA, ’13), 2012 Nicholas School Undergraduate Communications Intern
DURHAM, NC – Environmental activist Ikal Angelei spoke to a group of graduate and undergraduate students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment on Friday, Sept. 14, about her efforts to stop the construction of a mega dam that would affect more than 500,000 people living in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Angelei’s work to halt construction of the controversial dam won her a prestigious Goldman Prize in Environmental Activism earlier this year.
Her talk at the Nicholas School was part of the 2012 Environmental Institutions Seminar Series, sponsored by the University PhD Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP) and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Introduced as a “force of one,” Angelei has spearheaded the movement to stop the construction of the Gibe III hydroelectric dam on the Omo River , which provides 90 percent of the water in Lake Turkana. The world’s largest desert lake, Turkana straddles the border of Ethiopia and Kenya and is a vital resource for the fishermen and herders who eke out an existence on its shores...
Globally there has been an increase in concern over the environmental degradation and the need for greater environmental protection and management.
All ecosystems of the world are potentially affected by man’s activities, but wetlands are especially fragile and often neglected. Wetlands are neither well understood nor appreciated and have been increasingly under natural and human pressures in all parts of the globe and especially in Africa.
The GIBE III project is one of a series of damming projects that have been undertaken by the Ethiopian government. The Gibe III hydroelectric project on the Omo River is a public-private partnership planned as a 25year national energy master plan of Ethiopia. The planned increase in power generation, however far exceeds domestic needs with the surplus which is estimated at fifty percent being exported to the neighboring countries including Kenya which the Ethiopian Electric Power Company (EEPCo) predicts to export 500MW to.
The Omo River is a transboundary river that contributes at least 80 percent of the waters of Lake Turkana. Its terminus is at northern end of Kenya’s Lake Turkana, and most of the Omo Delta is in Kenya. A sharp reduction in the Omo’s downstream flow volume would cause a significant retreat of Lake Turkana.
An assessment of the overall impact of the proposed Gibe III project on the Lake Turkana, in Kenya must begin with the direct impact of the reduced flow into the lake, since the Omo River is the major source of water for Lake Turkana. Reduction in flow volume from reservoir filling would be the primary impact.
Based on a combination of calculations from satellite imagery, and published flow data, it is reasonable to say that the effect of the flow on the Lake Turkana can be established. Therefore, concluding that over the first five years, there would be a loss of about 53.5km3 of water from the lake, corresponding to a drop of about 7 meters. This should be considered as a conservative estimate: an alternative estimate, based on other available data is 10meters.
Using bathymetric data for Lake Turkana, it is possible to predict that the Omo delta and the northern section of the lake will desiccate, and the shorelines would recede to almost the halfway point, southward along the lake. A salinity increase in the lake is likely to severely affect the aquatic salinity of the lake which is already barely portable. Concentrations of the ions in the lake will. The effect of this is increased concentration on fish populations and on the usefulness of the lake for watering livestock and for human consumption will need to be determined. In turn the region’s livelihood systems-particularly those of the Turkana, Dassanech, Rendille., Samburu and other groups in Kenya would be significantly impacted as they are dependant upon recession cultivation, lakeside livestock grazing and watering at the lake, and fishing.
The Omo Delta and northern shoreline area have long provided habitat for a unique abundance of hippopotamus and Nile crocodile, with extraordinary numbers of water birds. This entire area would be the first part of Lake Turkana to undergo major destruction of habitat and wildlife. Consequently, the unique floral and faunal systems of Lake Turkana would likely be threatened with major destruction. The lake is now internationally recognized, including as a World Heritage Site for its abundance of wildlife, as well as unique floral and fauna species-many of which are barely described or understood, from an ecological perspective.
Lake Turkana is an alkaline saline lake that is located in an arid and hot environment in the Northern parts of the Eastern Rift Valley, with its northernmost tip stretching into Ethiopia. The Omo River is a transboundary river that contributes at least 80 percent of the waters of Lake Turkana with most of its Delta being in Kenya. The Lake is a closed drainage basin with a 7500 square kilometer body in north western Kenya. It is an alkaline saline lake that lies between 20 27’N, 40 40’N; 350 44’E, 350 50’E.
Lake Turkana is the world’s largest permanent desert lake. Its lunar-like landscape features white dunes, and sparsely populated vegetation. Volcanic in origin, Lake Turkana is the most northerly of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, crossing over the border of Ethiopia. The climate is dry and arid, and sudden, violent storms are frequent. Central Island within Lake Turkana is an active volcano with visible vapors. Its extreme terrain and remote location makes it still one of the most wild and untouched regions.
Lake Turkana is home to large populations of Nile crocodiles, hippos, and over 40 different species of fish and venomous snakes. The Turkana region has been a treasure trove of archaeological findings including the skull of the species Homo Rudolfensis. The lake is now internationally recognized, and its national parks declared World Heritage Sites for its use as a stopping point for migratory birds, as a breeding ground for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, and snakes, as well as unique floral and fauna species-many of which are not yet well documented.
The Turkana region has been a treasure trove of archaeological findings including the skull of the species Homo Rudolfensis. Lake Turkana is now internationally recognized, and its national parks declared World Heritage Sites for its use as a stopping point for migratory birds, as a breeding ground for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, and snakes, as well as unique floral and fauna species-many of which are not yet well documented.
There are a variety of indigenous communities around the Lake Basin including the: Rendille, Samburu, Turkana, Elmolo, Dassanach, Ariaal, and Gabbra. Learn more about the Lake Basin Communities.
In an unfortunate twist, the World Heritage Committee has rejected recommendations by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Heritage Centre to inscribe the Lake Turkana National Parks into the list of World Heritage in Danger.
During their 36th meeting at St. Petersberg in Russia, the World Heritage Committee turned down the recommendation to inscribe the Lake and 3 other Heritage Sites into this list despite the looming doom that is to come from the building of Gibe 3 Dam in Ethiopia together with other developments in Kenya and Ethiopia. The IUCN expressed great disappointment following this decision.
"We are disappointed that the committee has not inscribed any of these threatened sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger this year," said Tim Badman, director of IUCN's World Heritage Programme, referring to Kenya’s Lake Turkana, Cameroon’s Dja Biosphere Reserve, Russia’s Virgin Komi Forests and the Pitons Management Area in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia.
Ikal Angelei, activist and founder of the Friends of Lake Turkana, who have been fighting to save the lake and its people, also expressed great dissatisfaction saying, “It is a sad day for Lake Turkana and our people,” and adding that the inscription of the lake’s parks would have given it the prominence it desperately needs to survive the unrelenting onslaught of bad developments. "It must take a lot for UNESCO to consider a place to be in danger if Turkana did not make the list!" said Ms. Angelei. Ms. Angelei won the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa earlier this year in recognition of her efforts to save Lake Turkana.
The IUCN decision to propose the lake into the World Heritage in Danger list was based on findings of the joint mission visit to Lake Turkana by the IUCN and the World Heritage Centre in March 2012 that identified the dangers posed by Gibe 3 Dam construction and associated irrigation fed plantations and dams in the Lower Omo basin, oil exploration, pressure from poaching and livestock grazing and impacts of other large developments in northern Kenya.
The Friends of Lake Turkana have been campaigning against Gibe 3 Dam and in the few years they’ve been doing so, they have managed to stop the African Development Bank from funding the Gibe III Dam in spite of strong Ethiopian pressure. The World Bank and the European Investment Bank also walked away recognizing that the project would violate their social and environmental safeguard policies. Other big would be financiers have also been convinced to withdraw their funding for the now half complete dam delaying the $1.7 billion project by several years.
The joint team concluded that these dangers are severe enough to place the Lake Turkana heritage site in the danger list. "These four sites face significant threats to their values, from threats including major infrastructure projects, the extractive industry and property speculation," said Badman. The World Heritage Committee ignored these arguments and failed to inscribe the precious property.
The 36th meeting of the committee started in June 24 and ends on July 6 this year. This is the second year in a row that the committee has rejected the inscription of the Russian property, the Virgin Komi Forests, into the list. It is still unclear why the committee rejected the proposed decisions to accord these important resources that additional protection.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), is a grassroots organization founded in 2009 whose mission is to foster social, economic and environmental justice in the Lake Turkana Basin.
This is through:
FoLT was co-founded by Ikal Angelei and some concerned Kenyans who became privy to information that Gibe III dam in Ethiopia was being built on the Omo River which is a shared river between Kenya and Ethiopia was a project of unacceptable trade-offs between the 2 countries, and would jeopardize indigenous economies, destroy ecosystem and exacerbate conflicts. It was founded in November 2008 and received fiscal and office support from Turkana Basin Institute . FoLT worked and continues to work closely with the people of Lake Turkana and advocates on their behalf. FoLT was officially registered under in the Ministry of Lands through the Trust Act in October 2009
FoLT’s initial undertaking was the campaign to conserve and protect Lake Turkana and its ecosystem as well as protecting the rights of the Lake Turkana communities by campaigning for the halting of Gilgel Gibe III dam until certain conditions had been met. The conditions included;
It was while undertaking this campaign that we identified the lack of community awareness of their rights, the policies and obligations of state and non state actors. During community meetings that we created partnerships with grassroots community based organizations, beach management units (whose mandate is within the lake beaches), local leaders and various community associations and realized the need for the FoLT to take up other roles that would expand its operations within environment and resource rights and governance of the Turkana Basin.
Interview by Mark Caldwell - DW
As Kenya hails its first oil discovery, in a DW interview renowned Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey urges people to put pressure on the government to avoid the mistakes made in other oil-rich African nations.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has announced the discovery of crude oil in the north of Kenya where British company Tullow Oil has been doing exploratory drilling for the past year. The commercial viability of the desposit is still uncertain.
Richard Leakey, outspoken conservationist, fossil expert and former Kenyan politician about the Deutsche Welle on prospects and concerns surrounding the oil find. Read the entire interview on DW...
The Gibe hydroelectric project is one of a series of damming projects that have been undertaken by the Ethiopian government. The project is a public-private partnership planned as a 25 year national energy master plan of Ethiopia. The planned increase in power generation, however far exceeds domestic needs with the surplus which is estimated at 50 percent being exported to the neighboring countries including Kenya which the Ethiopian Electric Power Company (EEPCo) predicts to export 500MW to.
Download Gibe III Fact sheet and other documents here to obtain more background information pertaining to the Gibe III project.
The Gibe III threatens the biodiversity, livelihoods, and development of Northern Kenya, yet these potential risks have not been taken into account in the project planning by the Government of Ethiopia. The project has been opposed by local and international environmental and human rights groups and advocates. However, it was ultimately approved based on an incomplete Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that did not adequately take into account the perspectives of indigenous communities around Lake Turkana.
To find out more about the threats the Lake faces with its construction, click here
Despite the potential impacts of the dam on the lake’s ecosystem and livelihoods, Ethiopia has continued to pursue the project without an adequate environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) or proper consultation with the Lake Turkana Basin communities. FoLT is therefore working to bring attention to the impacts which Gibe III Dam will have on the Lake Turkana region and peoples and to find lasting solutions to this social injustice.
By Moses Njagih and Njiraini Muchira - The Standard
Beneath Turkana County, the land of burning sand, blistering heat, so many hungers, and untold human misery, lies oil deposits that could forever change Kenya's economic fortunes.
The question remains how big are the underground oil wells in volume, their commercial value, and years it will take before Kenya can have it flowing across its pipelines.
But as the country toasted to President Kibaki’s surprise announcement that an Anglo-Irish oil exploration firm, Tullow Oil Company, had struck the precious commodity that accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s import bill, another burning question lingered in the shadows... Read more...