Richard Leakey and Turkana Lobby Call for Protection of Lake Turkana
Nairobi, 13 August 2012 - The survival of Lake Turkana hangs precariously on the balance as appeals for its protection continues to fall on deaf ears, lobby group Friends of Lake Turkana said on Tuesday. Lake Turkana, according to the group, is in danger of drying out unless the Kenyan government and international agencies step in to stop unsustainable developments both within and outside Kenya.
The most critical development that threatens to adversely affect the lake for decades is the mammoth Gibe III hydroelectric dam being built on the Omo River in Ethiopia and its associated irrigation projects downstream. Whereas many would-be financiers of the dam have withdrawn their funding for this project, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China still holds a promise to invest $500 million in it.
A recent blow to the endangered lake was the announcement by the World Bank that it would give a $684 million loan to build a 1,000 km electricity transmission line from Gibe III into Kenya, thus endorsing the controversial dam that the same bank, in 2010, declined to fund as it would contravene their social and environmental principles. That the bank has now chosen to fund the single most important indicator of the dam’s economic viability has left many flabbergasted. Ethiopia plans to sell about 60% of the power generated by Gibe III to Kenya through this line.
Earlier, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites committee rejected an appeal by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an appointed advisor to the committee, to place Lake Turkana and three other endangered properties around the world in the list of World Heritage in Danger. This effectively cut the lake out of a share of the $4 million funding that UNESCO provides every year to support the most threatened sites. This was received with outrage by FoLT and others as the lake needs all the protection it can get against the vagaries of climate change, Gibe III and the thirsty sugarcane and cotton plantations that Ethiopia is developing along the Omo River.
So far, the impacts of climate change and unsound development has seen the natural resource in Lake Turkana dwindle, leading to frequent resource related conflict between various indigenous peoples who depend on the lake for their survival. In July 2012, 500 Turkana fishermen are reported to have fled from the lake following attacks by Merille gunmen from Ethiopia. Six people were also reported to have been killed in the back and forth fighting that ensued.
Lake Turkana is home to a large number of some of the most massive Nile Crocodiles, hippos and other large animals. There is also a wide variety of unique birds and other wildlife all which would find it hard to survive without the lake or if the water nutrient balance were to change as drastically as studies have predicted will happen if Gibe III is successfully completed with its current design. A recent discovery of new fossils that indicate a previously undocumented species of the early humans also mean that Lake Turkana basin is of global importance to the origin of mankind. The Lower Omo and Turkana basins also support more than 500,000 indigenous people whose livelihood is just about entirely dependent on these waters. These people may be wiped off the face of the earth – it would very much be genocide.
There are many other dangerous developments both within and outside Kenya that have a very high potential to put the future of this life-giving desert lake in jeopardy. Yet those with the might to ensure that much needed development projects do not harm the lake are silent or openly supporting such unsustainable projects. The Kenya government continues with its plan to buy electricity that will be generated at Gibe III and has shown no commitment to protect the lake, its people, or the unique natural environment of the largest desert lake in the world.
FoLT has called on the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia to stop and consider more environment and people friendly development before proceeding with their grand projects. FoLT has also written a letter to the World Bank asking them to reconsider their decision of funding the electricity transmission line and to stay true to their environmental and social guidelines. FoLT also calls on all international groups and institutions to support and stand by this vital source of life for people and nature in this desolate environment.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) is a community trust interested in the survival and conservation of Lake Turkana, its ecosystem and its cultural diversity. For More information go to www.friendsoflaketurkana.org
Journalistsare invited to a press conference on Tuesday 14 August 2012 at the Nairobi Safari Club at 10am where you can get quotes from leading Kenyan conservationists.
Ms. Ikal Angelei, founder of the Friends of Lake Turkana, and winner of the 2012 Goldman Environment Prize for Africa, will speak to you and answer your questions.
Dr. Richard Leakey, renowned conservationist and paleoanthropologist as well as founder of the Turkana Basin Institute that discovered the new fossil will also address the press and answer your questions.