Friends of Lake Turkana

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By Moses Njagih and Njiraini Muchira - The Standard


Ngamia1Beneath Turkana County, the land of burning sand, blistering heat, so many hungers, and untold human misery, lies oil deposits that could forever change Kenya's economic fortunes.

The question remains how big are the underground oil wells in volume, their commercial value, and years it will take before Kenya can have it flowing across its pipelines.

But as the country toasted to President Kibaki’s surprise announcement that an Anglo-Irish oil exploration firm, Tullow Oil Company, had struck the precious commodity that accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s import bill, another burning question lingered in the shadows... Read more...

Ikal Angelei at Lake Turkana

Kenya's Ikal Angelei has won one of this year's Goldman Prizes, often called the Nobel Prize for environmentalists. Ms Angelei mobilised her community in Turkana - northern Kenya - to try and stop a massive dam from being built in neighbouring Ethiopia. She realised that the projected Gibe-3 dam on Ethiopia's Omo River - which empties into Lake Turkana - could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people. Ms Angelei told the BBC Africa's Audrey Brown why she kick-started a campaign to get the project stopped and what she and the group she co-ordinates, Friends of Lake Turkana, will do with the $150,000 (£94,600) from the prize. 

Ikal was interviewed by the BBC and you can listen to the podcast at the BBC Website

Sean Avery is a man on a mission. The Kenya-based hydrologist and civil engineer is the leading authority on the hydrological workings of Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake, and he's extremely worried about its future.

The cause for his concern is a boom in river-crippling projects being built upstream in Ethiopia, on a river that is the primary water source for the lake. The huge Gibe III Dam and related irrigation developments now under construction in the Lower Omo Valley will regulate and divert large quantities of the lake's inflow into the lake, which could dry up a good portion of this ancient water body and forever change its ecological balance, its thriving fisheries, and the landscape around it. For hundreds of thousands of people who call the lake environment home, these changes could bring a slow death of their livelihoods and communities.

It is hard to believe that the planet could lose another of its big lakes from human hubris, but Lake Turkana is indeed set to become the next Lake Chad or Aral Sea, both of which lie near death from ill-conceived water diversions and dams. If the world allows Lake Turkana to become "Turkana Pond," we will lose a startling emerald jewel of a lake in a vast desert; rich biodiversity that borders on the prehistoric, and unique communities and cultures that reflect back on this distinctive place.

Dr. Avery, who's been visiting Lake Turkana for more than three decades, has spent the past few years steadily documenting how these upstream developments could lead to its ecocide. His latest report, "What Future for Lake Turkana", recently published by Oxford University's African Studies Centre, is a clear-eyed, unyielding, scientifically grounded cry for help.

The irrigation schemes are the wild card. If the government's grandiose plans come to fruition, the lake will certainly die. Avery notes that just one of the irrigated plantations being implemented in the Lower Omo is almost equal to the entire current irrigated area of Kenya, stating: "Irrigation development on this scale will require a huge rate of water abstraction from the Omo... up to 50 percent of the lake's inflow could be abstracted for irrigation alone." He calculates that such abstractions will drop the 30-meter-deep lake's level by 20 meters.

The state-run Ethiopian Sugar Corporation intends to develop 150,000 hectares of irrigated sugar plantations in the Lower Omo. Thousands of agro-pastoralist people are being pushed off their lands and into government villages for these developments, and being told to learn how to become sedentary "modern" farmers. Vast tracts of land have also been taken from existing protected areas. Other lands have been allocated to private investors. The Omo Valley has become the site not just of Ethiopia's largest water grab, but also a vast land grab, where well-connected Ethiopians and international investors are making moves to develop big plantations, mostly for export crops and sugar, while human rights abuses of local people escalate.

Because the consequences of these profligate irrigation abstractions were not mentioned in any of the environmental impact assessments commissioned by the dam builders, Dr. Avery began assessing them in a detailed 2010 report for the African Development Bank. Next he wrote a lengthy and detailed update to this, having gotten new, more shocking information about the extent of irrigation planned for the Lower Omo. Like many strong but "technical" scientific reports, his past reports have not had a wide audience. His new report is targeted for the rest of us: written for non-scientists, shorter, graphically beautiful. It's time for the rest of us to pay attention.

Where to from here?
Sean Avery is not alone in his effort to try to turn this story around. Many academics and activists have been warning of the dire consequences these projects will cause if they continue as planned. A recent article in the Kenyan newspaper The Star quotes veteran archaeologist Dr. Richard Leakey on the risks: "This is a global disaster in waiting. Lake Turkana is going to dry up." Friends of Lake Turkana, a Kenyan NGO, has been campaigning for many years to register local peoples' concerns and stir political action from Kenya. Human Rights Watch, Oakland InstituteSurvival International and my own organization are just a few that have been working to raise awareness on the situation in recent years. UNEP recently launched an effort to bring the two governments together to discuss how to share this important river.

All of these efforts would be nearly impossible without the careful work of the Dr. Averys of the world.

As we reach the knife's edge of decision-making on developments in the Omo, there is still time for Ethiopia to make changes that could save Lake Turkana.

A first step would be to undertake integrated water-resources management planning for the Lower Omo. This would establish the water needs of all stakeholders in the basin (including ecosystems), analyze the carrying capacity of the river in regards to future dams and plantations, and change development plans to meet these needs. Given the likelihood that Gibe III will be completed (it is about 75 percent complete now), the process could also review the potential for environmental flows -- a system for managing the quantity and timing of water flows below a dam to sustain ecosystems and human livelihoods that depend on them.

Such an ambitious basin-management process would require unprecedented cooperation and openness for these two governments. Yet the stakes are so high, the evidence so clear, that it's hard to imagine the impasse will continue, and the blinders will stay on. We'll be watching and waiting from the sidelines, with every hope that Dr. Avery won't, in the end, need to say "I told you so" about Lake Turkana.

 
 
 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-pottinger/can-lake-turkana-be-saved_b_4441405.html

Follow Lori Pottinger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/loripottinger_r

Our Director, Ikal Angelei, has been announced as the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Reciepient for Africa in recognition of her tireless effort to save Lake Turkana from the dangers of the massive Gibe 3 Dam being constructed in Ethiopia’s Omo River.

In 2008, Ikal Angelei, who also works with renowned anthropologist and conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey, learned from the distinguished Kenyan of the construction of what will become Africa’s largest dam along the Omo River in Ethiopia. Ikal immediately recognized that the dam would be the death of Lake Turkana and the end of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and marginalized people in the Lower Omo Basin and Lake Turkana regions.

Ikal started her campaign to stop the construction of the dam which had started in 2006. Shortly, she and likeminded individuals formed the Friends of Lake Turkana. FoLT thus became the vehicle that would spearhead the campaign to stop Gibe 3 on its tracks. In the few years that Ikal and FoLT have campaigned against the dam, we have managed to convince several financing organizations, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank not to fund the construction of Gibe 3 – which is 40% complete – and convinced the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to issue a communiqué calling for a stop in the construction of Gibe 3. The Kenyan Parliament also passed a resolution requiring the government to demand an independent environmental Impact Assessment of the dam.

Ikal continues to trudge on as she is now pushing for the Kenyan government – which is in agreement with Ethiopia to purchase 60% of the electricity generated by the dam – to get out of the power purchase agreement thus make it unjustifiable for China to continue funding the dam owing to the diminished demand. As Ikal always says, “Aluta continua.”

The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1989 by civic leaders and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his wife Rhoda H. Goldman to support individuals struggling to win environmental victories against the odds. It is meant to inspire ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the world. The phenomenal Prof. Wangari Maathai – RIP – won this Prize in 1991.

Read more about Ikal’s achievement in this blog post by Peter Bosshard of International Rivers, key supporters and partners of FoLT.

Learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize in their website.

 

In a remote part of East Africa, the Ethiopian government is furtively transforming a pastoral landscape populated by indigenous agro-pastoralists into an industrial powerhouse of dams and plantations. While the government says these developments are intended to reduce poverty, those on the ground see their land and water being taken from them, their homesteads bulldozed, their choices narrowed. Impacts will be felt all the way to Kenya.

The developments in the Lower Omo Valley pivot on the construction of the hugeGibe III Dam, a hydropower project that also regulates river flows to support year-round commercial agriculture. The dam's reservoir could begin filling in May, bringing major changes to the Omo's flow. A new film by International Rivers, A Cascade of Development on the Omo River, reveals the hydrological havoc that could ensue.

The biggest hydrological risks actually come from what is happening on the land. A government plan to convert hundreds of thousands of hectares of land to irrigated plantations could be devastating to people and ecosystems downstream. Information is hard to come by on these land conversions, so Human Rights Watch (HRW) used high-tech tools to document the changes. HRW's new analysis of satellite imagesreveals that the Ethiopian government continues to clear land used by indigenous groups to make way for state-run sugar plantations in the Lower Omo. The group reports that virtually all of the traditional lands of the 7,000-member Bodi indigenous group have been cleared in the past 15 months. Human rights abuses have accompanied the land grabs.

These massive developments will usurp the vast majority of the water in the Omo River basin, potentially devastating the livelihoods of the 500,000 indigenous peoplewho directly or indirectly rely on the Omo's waters for their livelihoods.

Most significantly, the changes in river flow caused by the dam and the irrigation schemes could cause a huge drop in the water levels of Kenya's Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lake, which receives 90 percent of its water from the Omo River, is projected to drop by about two meters during the initial filling of the dam. If current plans to create new plantations continue to move forward, the lake could drop as much as 16 to 22 meters. The average depth of the lake is just 31 meters.

The Big Dry Begins
This will be the first year that river flow past the Gibe III Dam is almost completely blocked. Reservoir filling is expected to take up to three years, and during this time the Omo River's annual flow could drop by as much as 70%. After this initial shock, regular dam operations will continue to devastate ecosystems and local livelihoods. Changes to the river's flooding regime will harm yields from flood-recession agriculture, prevent the replenishment of important grazing areas, and reduce fish populations -- all critical resources for livelihoods of local indigenous groups.

In a positive first step, the Ethiopian government has agreed to discuss joint management of the Omo Basin with the Kenyan government. To give this process weight and greater legitimacy, organizers should ensure that affected people are able to directly voice their concerns.

Although the dam seems to be a fait accompli, there are still options for managing the river in a way to reduce the risk that Lake Turkana becomes the planet's next Aral Sea. A process to devise a dam-management system of more natural flows (called"environmental flows") could reduce the worst social and environmental impacts of the dam and irrigation schemes.

To show it is serious about sustainable management of this important lifeline, the Ethiopian government should halt water withdrawals until a cumulative environmental-impact assessment of all developments in the Lower Omo is carried out by internationally reputable experts. Ethiopia should also commit to abiding by the assessment's findings on how much water the river needs to keep Lake Turkana healthy.

A large percentage of Ethiopia's budget comes from Western donors. These donorsmust play a bigger role in monitoring the situation now unfolding in the Lower Omo, and be prepared to put forth sticks along with the carrots if significant progress isn't made in resolving these problems. To turn a blind eye would make them complicit in large-scale human rights violations and environmental destruction.

Follow Lori Pottinger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/loripottinger_r

Interview by Mark Caldwell - DW

Richard Leakey speaks to DWAs Kenya hails its first oil discovery, in a DW interview renowned Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey urges people to put pressure on the government to avoid the mistakes made in other oil-rich African nations.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has announced the discovery of crude oil in the north of Kenya where British company Tullow Oil has been doing exploratory drilling for the past year. The commercial viability of the desposit is still uncertain.

Richard Leakey, outspoken conservationist, fossil expert and former Kenyan politician about the Deutsche Welle on prospects and concerns surrounding the oil find. Read the entire interview on DW...

Dam and irrigation projects could spark "bloody and persistent" conflict, suggests Peter Bosshard of International Rivers.


a tribal man from Ethiopia's Lower Omo River Basin. (Image by Alison M. Jones for www.nowater-nolife.org)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.

Scientific report documents looming environmental disaster

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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A new hydroelectric dam threatens to destroy it.

Fishermen in Lake Turkana head out for their daily catch on August 10, 2011.

Fishermen in Lake Turkana head out for their daily catch on August 10, 2011.

In the rugged and remote expanse of land that spreads across the border between Kenya and Ethiopia a modern dam is killing an ancient lake.

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.

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.

Visit our news or blog pages to read articles to learn more about our activities to oppose the Gibe III project.

 

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.

Copyright © 2013 Friends of Lake Turkana | All rights reserved.

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