Kenya plans fresh talks with Ethiopia to avert reported threats to Lake Turkana’s ecosystem due to the construction of the Gibe III dam along the lake’s main source of water.
The government said on Monday they would seek reassurance that the dammed water would be released and not used to irrigate land.
The Ethiopian government is putting up the hydro-electric power dam along River Omo, which is the main source of water for Lake Turkana.
Environmental activists fear that the lake’s water level may drop by as much as 33 feet as a result, compromising its status as a world heritage site besides the depletion of fish stocks.
Speaking on Monday at a press briefing in Nairobi, Sports, Culture and Arts secretary Hassan Wario said his ministry would invite Ethiopia to the negotiation table to ensure the dam project had little impact on the eco-system around Lake Turkana.
“We are going to approach the issue in a bilateral engagement with the Government of Ethiopia,” he said.
The project risks having Lake Turkana removed from the list of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage sites. There are 891 such sites in 160 countries.
The UN agency’s 35th and 36th conventions in 2011 and 2012 recommended that Lake Turkana be put on the endangered list due to the effects construction of the Ethiopian dam had shown.
Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake and Africa’s fourth largest fresh water body, also risks being rendered unproductive due to siltation.
The lake is a great attraction for tourists with its three national parks — Sibilioi, Central Island and South Island national parks. The parks have been listed by Unesco as heritage sites.
The government, however, noted that Lake Turkana had been spared the axe and been given up to 2015 to find a solution to the imminent threats.
“The Kenya delegation for this year’s convention was able to convince the committee to give us more time to finalise bilateral talks with Ethiopia,” said Dr Wario.
The government said it had no intentions of halting the ongoing construction of the project, but would instead ask Ethiopia to release the dam’s water after serving its purpose of hydro-electric power generation.
This follows fears that Ethiopia may divert the trapped waters to its irrigation projects thereby cutting off water flowing downstream to the Lake Turkana basin. Upon completion in 2017, the dam will stand at the head of a 74 billion cubic meter reservoir, possibly disrupting downstream flows to Kenya, Egypt and Sudan.
Apart from the world heritage recognition, the lake is a source of livelihood for more than 20,000 people who depend on it for fish. The lake supports more than 48 species of fish.
At present Kenya has six world heritage sites, namely Old town of Lamu, Mount Kenya, Mijikenda Kaya forest, Lake Turkana National Park, the Kenya Lakes Systems and Fort Jesus.
The government through the National Museums of Kenya is pushing for Thimlich Ohinga cultural landscape in Migori County to be the seventh site.