Rights group warns on the dangers of building Gibe III Dam

An international organisation is warning of a looming crisis along Lake Turkana and the lower Omo River region in Ethiopia if construction of the Gibe III Dam by the Ethiopian government continues.

According to Survival International, an organisation that works for people’s rights worldwide, the construction of the controversial dam in the lower Omo River will cause reduction in water levels in the river that is a main source for Lake Turkana.

Construction of the mega dam meant to generate 1870 MW of power, more than doubling total installed capacity in Ethiopia, is expected to affect more than 300,000 community members living along the lake.

Survival International, in a press release posted in their website, says the disaster has been predicted by three new reports.

One of the reports prepared by Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG) is warning that Lake Turkana water levels could drop by 22 meters because of the dam, resulting in famine as irrigation projects that support food growing among the Turkanas would be affected.

The ARWG report also warns of shrinking of the lake resulting in saline waters, lost nutrients and drying up of bays.

“This means that fish stocks on which the tribal (communities) like the Turkana who live around the lake rely on will collapse. So they will lose their livelihoods and face famine,” the report says.

The project has been deemed controversial because of a lack of transparency and contested environmental and social impact.

A joint mission of government officials from both Kenya and Ethiopia visited Lake Turkana in March last year and identified the dangers posed by the Gibe III Dam, which is under construction.

They noted that construction would not only affect irrigation along the shores of the lake but also oil exploration in Turkana. The joint team observed that these dangers are severe enough to place the Lake Turkana heritage site in the danger list.

Apart from the Turkana, the El Molo and Dassanach communities also depend on the lake for survival. The two are among the smallest tribes in Kenya. El Molos live in the El Molo Bay on lake Turkana and they wholly rely on fishing.

According to the report, birds that feed on the lake as well as crocodiles and other aquatic life, which attracts tourists, will be affected.
Survival International has expressed concern that conflicts are likely to emerge among communities that depend on the lake.

The ARWG report says competition for dwindling water and fish stocks could lead to inter-ethnic conflict. It says the Dassanach, who live officially in Ethiopia, will be under enormous pressure to follow the lake as it recedes southwards into Kenya.

Survival International now wants aid agencies to pay attention to the looming crisis, saying communities along Lake Turkana have started reporting health problems associated with high salinity.

They are also calling on the Kenya and Ethiopian governments to urgently carry out assessment on the impact the dam will have in both countries.