A boy collects water from the Omo River floodplain in Ethiopia. Photo © Alison M. Jones via International Rivers.
"The rise and fall of the Omo waters is the heartbeat of the Lower Omo Valley," writes International Rivers -- a heartbeat that the environmental group says the Gibe 3 Dam threatens to stop. The organization, along with other global NGOs, has launched a petition campaign to halt construction of the dam, which they say threatens the land and livelihoods of 500,000 tribal people in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya.Though the Ethiopian government began building the dam in 2006, it needs more than $1.4 billion to finish it -- money it's trying to raise from the World Bank, other development banks, and various national governments, while, environmental groups say, cracking down on local activists who oppose the project.
Harvests and Grazing Lands at Risk
"By ending the [Omo River's] natural flood cycle, [the dam] will destroy harvests and grazing lands along the river and fisheries in Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake. The dam will devastate the unique culture and ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, both recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites," adds International Rivers.
If the dam is completed, activists say, people in the Lower Omo Valley would no longer be able to plant their crops and graze their animals on the river's flood plains during times of the year when the waters recede, threatening food security and creating a risk of increased conflict in the region. The water in the dam's reservoir is also expected to serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can be dangerous carriers of malaria.
In neighboring Ethiopia, the loss of flow into Lake Turkana is expected to increase its salinity, making the lake's waters undrinkable for residents and uninhabitable for many fish species on which the local economy depends. Activists say these types of environmental and social impacts were not assessed before the dam was approved, in violation of Ethiopian law.
A 'Fatally Flawed' Ecological Assessment
The Ethiopian government says the hydro-electric dam, which would be the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa, is needed to generate electricity for the country, which has been undergoing a national energy crisis. It also claims that the overall amount of water reaching rural communities would not change. But many remain unconvinced by such arguments.
The government's environment assessment was "fatally flawed in terms of its logic, in terms of its thoroughness, in terms of its conclusions," famed Kenyan ecologist Richard Leakey told the BBC last year. "[I]t looks like an inside job that has come up with the results that they were looking for to get the initial funding for this dam."
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