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.
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.
As the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Egypt meet today at Addis Ababa to try to unlock a diplomatic deadlock – one with far greater implications than just diplomacy – over Ethiopia's plans to build a dam on one of the River Nile's major tributaries, a question arises as to whether Ethiopia has become too arrogant in its attempt to rejuvenate its economic growth.
The dam in question is the Grand Renaissance Dam being constructed along the Blue Nile River. If completed, this will be among the largest dams in the world and will join another rising colossus that is also under construction by the Ethiopians along the Omo River – the Gilgel Gibe III Dam. Ethiopia has already started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile as part of the construction process despite protests and thinly veiled threats of 'water wars' coming from the Egyptian government.
Perhaps the strongest sign that water wars are looming between the two countries is that immediately after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in May, Ethiopia announced that it was diverting the waters. What this could mean is that Ethiopia will forge on with their dam unfazed by any contrary opinion – even if their forging ahead threatens to catastrophically alter the existence of millions of people downstream.
Drawing parallels to Egypt's unfortunate situation with that facing Lake Turkana owing to the ongoing construction of Gibe III Dam along the Omo River – which contributes about 90% of all the water of Lake Turkana – one cannot fail to see a pattern of impunity in the Ethiopian Government: a government that will execute hugely disruptive projects without concern for contrary opinion even when such opinion is based on fact.
The repetitive chorus chanted by Ethiopia that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not affect the flow of the Nile, is the same empty rhetoric that has been applied in the case of Gibe III and Lake Turkana yet scientific evidence clearly shows that the Gibe dam will have a disastrous effect on Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Lower Omo Basin in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also claims that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not be used for irrigation but only for Electricity generation. Nobody should believe that given that that is the same thing they say about Gibe III – and all consequent Gibes planned downstream of this third dam – yet we know that huge tracts of land in the Lower Omo have already been wrestled from indigenous Ethiopian populations and leased out to Asian entities to be converted into sugar and cotton plantations. Only a lunatic would believe that Ethiopia will not use the dam water for irrigation.
What then is the option for Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya? These three African sisters - and all other nations in the world - should ponder on the big question of water scarcity that is escalating with the increasing severity of the effects of climate change and Africa's burgeoning populations. Currently, Egypt and Ethiopia have a combined population of almost 170-million people and this is projected to increase by another 100-million people by 2050. That can only mean that, climate change notwithstanding, water will definitely become an extremely dear commodity for both nations. Kenya on the other hand has more than 40-million thirsty inhabitants, a significant fraction of whom will be directly affected by the adverse effect of the Gibe III Dam on Lake Turkana.
Better ways of managing shared water and other natural resources are long overdue. If Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya are to properly harness their water resources, mutually beneficial resource sharing methods have to be thought out and quickly implemented. Respect for the lives and well-being of downstream populations has to be paramount. Impunity has to end.
Dams and irrigated plantations being built in Ethiopia will bring major changes to the flow of the Lower Omo River, which in turn will harm ecosystem functions and local livelihoods all the way to the river's terminus at Lake Turkana in Kenya. More dams are planned for the basin that would compound the damages.
Here we outline some of the basic changes that can be expected as a result of these developments, and include resources on where to get more information.
The video below illustrates the hydrological risks the dam and plantations bring to the Lower Omo and Lake Turkana:
Climate change could worsen the water situation in the Omo. More extreme droughts and unpredictable precipitation patterns, combined with higher temperatures (which increase evaporation), could cause further stress to a region that already experiences extreme precipitation variability. There is evidence that there will be a drying trend and warmer temperatures.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have jointly decided to inscribe the Lake Turkana Parks heritage site into the List of World Heritage in Danger. This decision is awaiting approval by the World Heritage Committee during their 36th session at St. Petersburg, Russia, June 24 till July 6, 2012.
The decision is based on findings of the joint mission visit to Lake Turkana 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 larger developments in northern Kenya. The joint team concludes that these dangers are severe enough to place the Lake Turkana heritage site in the danger list.
Gibe 3 Dam and associated irrigation plans is the biggest danger to the lake. Gibe 3, according to the official Ethiopian website for the project, is 50% complete and it will take 3 years to fill up once completed. During this 3-year period, the water levels on Lake Turkana will reduce by 1.65 to 4m above normal flactuation levels according to joint team's models. But this is not the biggest problem. According to the team's assessment:
After filling is complete and if no water would be extracted from the Omo river downstream of the dam, normal river flow volumes would return to the lake, but it could take 12 years for the lake to return to its equilibrium level. Thus the impact of filling may last 15 years in total. The drop in water levels will move the shoreline of the lake significantly, particularly in the northern part of the lake where two components of the property are located (estimated at 2-3 km minimum at a drop of 1.65 m). This significant drop in lake levels could result in increased salinity and in likely impacts on wildlife which depends on the riparian flood plains and wetland habitats along the lake’s shore for food and breeding as well as on fish stocks as a result of the drying out of major fish spawning areas, such as Ferguson’s Gulf and the delta of the Omo River)
There will also be direct impacts of reduced oscillation due to the dams flood control capacity. Cummulative irrigation projects in the Lower Omo will complicate this matter further. For instance "the Kuraz sugar development is already under construction and there are plans to convert 278,000 ha of land along the river to sugar plantations and other agricultural developments using irrigation. The African Development Bank study cites the Omo-Gibe basin master plan in which irrigation developments by 2024 would use 16% of the basin’s water and calculates this would lead to a reduction in lake level of 8.4 m. This is a significant hydrological change to the lake."
The World Heritage and IUCN team cites many other reasons for inscribing Lake Turkana into the danger list. You can read the section on Lake Turkana in their report which can be downloaded here. Lake Turkana is on page 11 of this PDF document.
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.
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...
China has made great efforts to support poverty reduction in Africa, and likes to present itself as a friend of the African people. But loans for contentious dam and irrigation projects now threaten to pull China into an explosive regional conflict between well-armed groups in Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The Lower Omo Valley in south-west Ethiopia and Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya are marked by a harsh climate and unique, fragile ecosystems. They are home to 12 indigenous peoples, one of the largest remaining wildlife migrations, and some of the earliest remains of the human species.
The region is currently being transformed by one of Africa's biggest and most controversial infrastructure ventures. Once completed, the Gibe III hydropower project will dam the Omo River to generate electricity with a capacity of 1,870 megawatts. It will also allow the irrigation of 2,450 square kilometres of sugar plantations, which are currently being developed on indigenous lands and in national parks.
The dam and irrigation projects have been debated for many years. Reports commissioned and prepared by the African Development Bank, International Rivers, the World Heritage Committee and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority have documented their impacts on the fragile ecosystems of the Lower Omo River and Lake Turkana, the 500,000 indigenous people who depend on them, and the unique cultural heritage of this cradle of humankind.
A new scientific study published by the NGO International Rivers explores the social and environmental impacts of the project in detail, and examines the knock-on effects of the impending ecological crisis on the security of the volatile border region of Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The study confirms that Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake, almost completely depends on the inflows from the Omo River, and that the lake's unique ecosystems and fisheries are closely linked to the river’s annual flood cycle.
The dam and sugar plantations will affect this ecosystem in several ways. The dam will interrupt the annual flood of the Omo River, which sustains the agriculture, grazing lands and fisheries of the region. The filling of the Gibe III reservoir will lower the water level of Lake Turkana by two metres. The sugar plantations will divert at least 28% of the Omo River’s annual flow, and lower the lake's water level by at least 13 metres. Read more...
Lake Turkana is the world’s largest “desert sea," a vast turquoise ocean in an unremittingly harsh place of wind, heat and dust.
Its waters keep the cattle of semi-nomadic pastoralists alive in times of drought and its fish feed the people.
It is one of the origins of mankind where, according to the fossil record, the earliest human ancestors rose up on two legs and began to walk, and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yet it is threatened with extinction by Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam which is already around three-quarters built and likely to be completed in 2014.
The Gilgel Gibe III Hydroelectric dam on the Omo River in southern Ethiopia will be 243 meters high. The project is expected to generate up to 1,860 megawatts of energy, and to supply enough water to irrigate 150,000 hectares of agricultural plantations.
The dam is key to the economic future that Ethiopia’s leaders have mapped out for their country. But experts say it will also destroy Lake Turkana just across the border in Kenya.
“The result could be another Aral Sea disaster in the making,” writes Sean Avery, a Nairobi-based hydrologist in a new report published by the Africa Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.
The Aral Sea in Central Asia was one of the world’s largest lakes until Soviet irrigation projects diverted the rivers that fed it, reducing the lake to a tiny fraction of its original size.
For its part, Lake Turkana is slightly salty and shallow.
Only 30 meters deep on average, Avery predicts water levels could fall by 20 meters, turning the lake into two separate, outsized puddles — one fed by the remnants of the Omo, the other by the smaller Kerio and Turkwel rivers.
Salinity levels are expected to rise as the surface area shrinks, making the lake unlivable for fish, hippos and crocodiles and undrinkable for cattle and people.
“Lake Turkana depends on the Omo River for 90 percent of its water,” said Ikal Angelei, director of Friends of Lake Turkana who was awarded the 2012 Goldman Prize in recognition of her efforts to save the lake and the livelihoods of the people who depend on it.
“If you reduce the freshwater coming in you change the chemical composition of the lake,” she told GlobalPost. Up to 300,000 people rely on the lake to survive, she added.
Ethiopia’s government says that once the Gibe III dam is filled up in two and a half years, a constant stream of water will be permitted to flow down the Omo valley and into Lake Turkana.
But Angelei said this will not solve the problem.
“It’s the natural increases and decreases in water flow that allows the ecosystem to survive,” she said.
Fish breeding cycles as well as seasonal farming on the river’s floodplains require times of high and low water.
“The regulation of the natural hydrological river flow cycle will permanently alter the present flood plain's ecology, with catastrophic consequences,” wrote Avery.
Avery’s report also stated that 30 percent of the Omo’s flow was to be diverted for the irrigation of huge new agricultural plantations.
Ethiopia’s government had kept the plantation plans secret until New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch revealed details of the scheme in a report published last year.
The rights group accused the Ethiopian government of “arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence” as it forced indigenous people off their lands to make way for state-run sugar plantations, irrigation canals and processing factories.
“Ethiopia’s ambitious plans for the Omo valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there,” said the report’s author, Ben Rawlence.
Angelei says the dam threatens people's rights in Turkana too. Kenya’s government has done nothing to defend them.
The governments of both countries have contentious relations with pastoralist people who are frequently derided as backward and uncivilized.
Their very existence is seen as an affront to the sophistication, modernity and forward-leaning economies that the centralized authorities in Addis Ababa and Nairobi seek to project.
The pastoralist people frequently carry guns and disdain the sedentary life of towns and cities, preferring to move with their animals through the wilds.
Despite the expected impact on its people, successive Kenyan governments have raised only muted objections to the dam.
A parliamentary resolution in August 2011 called for construction to be stopped.
But the resolution was not acted on and was then quietly shelved when, 11 months later, the World Bank provided a $684 million loan for the building of a 1,000 kilometer transmission line that will allow Kenya to benefit from the power generated.
Angelei and others hope the scenario they envisage is a worst-case projection, but fear it is also the most realistic.
“Lake Turkana is a [UNESCO] protected area but it’s not being protected. It’s a safe zone in drought periods, it supports fishermen and pastoralists, it has traditional and cultural value and is the cradle of mankind, but it is being ignored,” she said.
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.