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01 Apr

"Land dispute threatens to stall wind power project" by Ali Abdi

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Last modified on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Marsabit, Kenya: A major row has hit the Sh75 billion Lake Turkana wind power project after a section of leaders said the site of the project is community land. On Saturday, Laisamis leaders mainly drawn from the opposition Jubilee Alliance held a meeting where they resolved to move to court or petition the Marsabit County Assembly and the Senate to revoke the title deed acquired by Lake Turkana Wind Power Consortium. The leaders under the umbrella of Laisamis Professionals and Leaders Forum alleged the consortium was irregularly leased the vast tract of land by a group of leaders in Marsabit County. ‘‘The area is community land and a group of few individuals irregularly allocated themselves the land and later leased it to the consortium,’’ alleged David Timado, the team leader of the group.
Mr Timado further alleged that the owners of the land had leased it for 99 years at a cost of Sh500 million. The group, who included six MCAs from the Laisamis constituency, said they were not opposed to the mega project, but want the locals and the county government to be involved in the exercise.
"We want to categorically state that we want the project to go on, but at the same time demand that the locals should also benefit from it. The holders of the title deed are individuals and not the community,’’ claimed Timado. At the Laisamis town meeting, the group who hired lawyers from Wangira Okoba and Company Advocates based in Nairobi collected signatures from residents as they prepare to go to court to revoke the title deed acquired by the consortium. Wangira Okoba said they will file the case at the High Court in Nairobi in the course of the week.
However, Marsabit County Assembly Speaker Mathew Loltome, who was present during the meeting blamed the defunct County Council of Marsabit for allegedly sanctioning the sale of the land. The proposed project is Africa’s largest wind farm and the single biggest investment by a private investor in the country. Loltome said documents inherited by the county government from the defunct council show that the
consortium paid an initial Sh30 million and an agreement was reached on leasing the land at the rate of Sh1.3 million annually. ‘‘It could be that they were ignorant or some of the councillors were compromised but from the records we have, the council is the one that sanctioned the land transaction,’’ said the official. The consortium comprises KP and P Africa, Aldwych International, Industrial Development Corporation, IFU, Norfund and Wind Power Invest A S. In its project disclosure document, the group says; ‘‘The commercially financed Sh75 billion investment will produce power that will be purchased by the utility Kenya Power over a 25 year period. During the construction up to 900 jobs will be created followed by 150 full time jobs."
Find original article here
26 Mar

"Tullow steps up transparency in reporting" By Tom Burgis in London

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Last modified on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Tullow Oil is to become the first oil company to disclose its payments to foreign governments with the level of detail demanded by anti-corruption campaigners, advancing a transparency drive that has met fierce resistance in parts of the industry.
Campaigners said the FTSE 100 company’s decision to undertake so-called project-by-project reporting undermines the position of the US oil industry lobby, which is seeking to block regulators from making such disclosures mandatory for oil and mining groups.
“This information is being released as part of our commitment to ensure that there is transparency around our payments to governments in the countries in which we work,” said Tullow ahead of Monday’s release of its annual report containing the new disclosures.
The London-listed group, which has been at the forefront of recent oil discoveries in Africa, said its disclosures would be in line with an EU directive that will oblige oil and mining companies to publish tax, royalty and other payments to foreign governments. Some of Tullow’s disclosures will only be at the country level but it will make additional voluntary disclosures about tax payments in countries where it is exploring but not yet producing oil.
Advocates of project-by-project disclosures contend that anything less detailed would blunt the declared goal of the new transparency measures which is to help citizens of resource-rich states to counter the graft and misrule that often accompany natural wealth.
New EU rules, expected to come into force in the UK this year and across the bloc next year, stipulate project-by-project reporting. However, in July, the American Petroleum Institute, which counts ExxonMobil and Chevron among its members, won a court ruling that forced the US Securities and Exchange Commission to reconsider its plan to enforce project-level disclosure under the transparency provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform act of 2010.
The API argues that such disclosures would leave US companies at a disadvantage to rivals not covered by the rules. It wants regulators to publish only less detailed, aggregate data based on companies’ confidential submissions of payments.
“The SEC can issue rules that meet their legal obligations to promote transparency while also protecting firms’ international competitiveness,” the API said.
Dominic Eagleton, senior campaigner at Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption group, said: “Instead of trying to weaken transparency rules designed to combat corruption and poverty in resource-dependent countries, the oil majors should follow Tullow’s lead and embrace the fact that project-by-project reporting is the new global standard.”
Oil and gas discoveries from Ghana to Kenya took Tullow’s reserves to 380m barrels of oil equivalent at the end of last year, generating annual revenues of $2.6bn. This month, it received a reminder of the pitfalls of doing business in troubled African states when it suspended drilling off the coast of Guinea after its partner, Houston-based Hyperdynamics, was placed under investigation by US authorities probing possible breaches of anti-corruption laws.

Tullow steps up transparency in reporting

IAN GARY | Senior Policy Manager, Extractive Industries
Oxfam America | Washington | W: +1 (202) 833 1942| M: +1 (202) 375 3628 | Skype: iangary |
07 Mar

"What Future for Lake Turkana?" By Sean Avery

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Last modified on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00

In a new paper entitled "What future for lake Turkana: the impact of hydropower and irrigation development on the world’s largest desert lake", the Nairobi based hydrologist and consulting engineer, Dr Sean Avery, considers the impacts on the lake of river basin development in the Omo Valley. The paper is based on reports submitted by Dr Avery to the African Development Bank (2010) and to the African Studies Centre at Oxford University (2012).
What Future for Lake Turkana?

The Gibe III Dam, now being built in the middle basin of the Omo, will make possible large-scale commercial irrigation schemes in the lower basin. One of these schemes, now being implemented by the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, will equal in extent the current irrigated area of Kenya. This will require a huge rate of water abstraction from the Omo, a transboundary river and the source of 90 per cent of Lake Turkana’s freshwater and accompanying nutrient inflow.

Lake Turkana diagram

The actual irrigation water demand will depend not only on the crop area to be irrigated but also on the overall efficiency of the irrigation system. Making the optimistic assumption of an overall irrigation efficiency of 60 per cent, the paper predicts that the sugar scheme alone will require well over 30 per cent of the Omo flow. This rises to almost 40 per cent if the remaining area already allocated to irrigation development in the Lower Omo is included. If the efficiency assumption is reduced to 45 per cent (the figure used by the Omo-Gibe Master Plan of 1996) the total water demand for projected irrigation development in the Lower Omo reaches over 50 per cent.

This would lead to a drop in lake level of over 20 metres (its average depth is roughly 30 metres), a more than 50 per cent reduction in its volume and biomass (total mass of living organisms) and a drastic fall in the productivity of its fisheries. Ultimately, the lake could reduce to two small lakes, one fed by the Omo and the other by the Kerio and Turkwel rivers. The picture that emerges from these predictions bears a striking resemblance to the recent disastrous history of the Aral Sea, a non-outlet lake in Central Asia which was once the world’s fourth largest inland water body.


Download the full report.

03 Mar

"The Race to Save Ethiopians Damned by the Dam" By Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam

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Last modified on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 08:27

Exactly two years ago to the month, I wrote a commentary entitled, "The Dam and the Damned: Gilgel Gibe III Ethiopia" focusing on the impact of "development" in the Omo River Basin (ORB) in southern Ethiopia. In that commentary, I echoed the deep concerns voiced by various international human rights and environmental organizations over the ecological impact and cost of that dam on the lives of indigenous populations.

I also made it a special point to express gratitude and appreciation to "the great international human rights organization that have created so much international awareness on the precarious environmental situation in the Omo River Basin." I am even more profoundly grateful to International Rivers, Human Rights Watch, the Oakland Institute, Survival International and the Africa Resources Working Group two years later for the extraordinary work they continue to do to save the environment and the indigenous people in the ORB. For years, these organizations have been in the forefront of the race to save Ethiopians damned by the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric dam.

The various international organizations have done invaluable work by raising public awareness and undertaking advocacy campaigns to bring international attention to the ecological disaster taking place in the ORB. Over the years, they have all issued meticulously prepared field reports, research and policy analyses and other scientific and statistical reports documenting the effect of the "development programs" of the regime in power in Ethiopia on the lives and livelihoods of the people of the ORB. They have all sought to advocate and mobilize international public opinion to bring sanity to the madness of Gibe III dam, the flagitious leasing of tribal lands in the Basin for sugar and rice plantations for the export sector and to stop the forced resettlement ("villagization") of indigenous communities.

In my 2012 commentary, I also publicly lamented the fact that Ethiopians, particularly those of us in the Diaspora, have been standing on the sidelines with arms folded as the various international human rights and environmental organizations groups were running a steep uphill race to save Ethiopians in the ORB. We have been silently watching them doing all of the heavy lifting for us. At the time, I pleaded with all Ethiopians to "join and help international human and environmental rights organizations help us, and engage in vigorous environmental activism of our own." I appealed for the "creation of our own environmental civil society organizations, particularly in the Diaspora, to ensure that Ethiopia's rich and diverse ecosystem is preserved and protected today and for future generations." I also warned, "If we fail to do that, we will all find ourselves in the same position as the people of the Omo River Basin who are damned by the dam."

It is painful for me (frankly, I am ashamed) to admit that two years after I wrote that commentary, we are still on the sidelines watching while the international human rights and environmental organizations are still doing all of the heavy lifting for us and keeping up the race to save our people. I find myself asking the same questions over and over, without answers: Is it fair to have the international human rights and environmental organizations do all of the heavy lifting for us in the ORB? When these organizations show so much care and concern for our people and our country, why are we so manifestly unconcerned? Why is that we do not join and support the organizations speaking up for our people? Why is it that we do not come to the aid of these organizations and defend them against the slings and arrows of a vicious regime which slanders them and scandalizes their good works? Would we be as passive and silent if the same environmental crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed in the name of "development" in other parts of Ethiopia? Are we manifestly unconcerned about the people of the ORB because they are marginalized ethnic minorities? Could it be that we are ashamed of the people of the ORB because they do not look "modern" like the rest of us, or are a "backward civilization" as the late Meles Zenawi once called them? How can we justify to future generations that they owe their legacy of environmental conservation and protection of the indigenous peoples of the ORB to the tireless efforts of international organizations? I ask my readers to think about these questions.

I think it is only fair that we should at least financially help those organizations who are helping us. There is no reason why we cannot demonstrate our support to them as they fight for the rights of our people in the ORB. We should be standing with them and not standing on the sidelines watching them.

The clear and present danger posed by the Gilgel Gibe III dam to the people of the ORB

The Gibe III dam poses a clear and present danger to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians in the ORB including the Bodi, Karo, Muguji, Mursi, Nyangatom and Dasanech, among others, who have survived for millennia practicing what is called "flood retreat agriculture". At the end of the rainy season, the flooded land near the river banks provides rich silt for raising a variety of crops including sorghum, maize and beans. The very existence of these Ethiopians depends on the cyclical flooding season. The Gibe III dam will fundamentally disrupt the natural downstream flow by damming the river upstream for electricity production for export. Experts have convincingly argued that the water volume on the Omo River will be permanently reduced as a result of diversion of water for the dam reservoir and irrigation of sugar plantations. This will make flood retreat agriculture virtually impossible for the people living in the Basin. In August 2012, the world renowned conservationist and paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey challenged the self-serving Gibe III "scientific" studies minimizing the ecological effects of the dam and predicted, "the dam will produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic to both the environment and the indigenous communities living downstream."

"Developing" the Omo River Basin

In late January 2011, Meles Zenawi gave a speech in Jinka, South Omo. It was vintage Meles– bombastic, bitter and full of bluster. He promised the sun and moon to the people trapped in the "backward civilization" of the ORB. He pledged to take them out of the stone age and into the modern age by making the region "an example of rapid development." He assured them that the "dam on the Omo River [will] eliminate flood, create a huge irrigation system and give pastoralists a sustainable income and a modern life."

With a vengeance, Meles demonized and lashed out at the environmental and human rights organizations urging care and caution in the construction of the Gibe III dam and protection of the way of life of the indigenous people. He characterized them as naysayers and doomsayers "who want to block our freedom to use our rivers, and to save our people from poverty." He called them malicious obstructionists. "They are creating huge propaganda... They are blocking us from getting financial loans from abroad to finish the project." He ridiculed them as "best friends of backwardness and poverty... who don't actually do anything tangible." He virtually called them self-absorbed racists because "all they want is keep the pastoralists as a tourist attraction" and keep the people of the ORB "a case study of ancient living for scientists and researchers."

Meles and his henchmen have gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the environmental devastation that has occurred and continues to occur in the construction of the Gibe III dam and the "development" of the Basin. In July 2008, two years after construction began on the dam and international human rights and environmental organizations began sounding the alarm, Meles directed his "Environmental Protection Authority" to issue the Gibe III Environmental Social Impact Assessment. That report was a shameless whitewash which rubber-stamped Meles' pigheaded decision to forge ahead with the project. It was full of boldfaced lies. It unabashedly concluded that the reservoir area for Gibe III is unfit for human habitation because it is infested by deadly mosquitoes and tsetse flies (which cause "sleeping sickness"). It claimed, "There is no settlement in the future reservoir area and settlements are concentrated on the highland in areas outside the valley... There is very little farming activity around the Omo valley bottom lands. ... The population living within the proposed dam and the reservoir areas are not in close proximity to the UNESCO designated heritage site. No visible archaeological remains, which have scientific, cultural, public, economic, ethnic and historic significances, have been observed in the area and dam sites."

Meles' way of "modernizing" the "backward" people of the ORB was to turn over the Basin to Saudi Arabian and other foreign investors and his buddies. Meles announced in his speech that his "government is planning, and working hard to establish, a 150,000 hectare sugarcane development in this area starting this year." Sure enough, according to IC Magazine, "A Saudi Arabian tycoon Al-Moudi, with close links to the top-level Ethiopian leadership [was] allotted 10,000 hectares for a rice plantation. His massive project has done considerable damage to the local environment, which includes a national park and wildlife habitat, and local communities that have lived in their homelands for many generations."

Meles announced that five sugar factories will be built in the ORB by the Omo Kuraz Sugar Development project. According to "Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency", "Mesfin Industrial Engineering (MIE) signed ETB 3 billion ($162.2 million) worth contracts with state-owned enterprises to deliver machineries for the Tana Beles Integrated Sugar Development Project and the Kuraz Sugar development projects in the Amhara region and the Omo Valley..." MIE is "also producing railroad tracks for the Dire Dawa-Addis Ababa railway project and finalizing preparations to deliver the same for the Djibouti through Afar to Northern Ethiopia railway line."

In June 2011, UNESCO concluded that "GIBE III dam is likely to significantly alter Lake Turkana's fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic species and associated biological systems" and "urged the State Party of Ethiopia to immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam [and not] damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage located on the territory of another State Party."

In Meles "development" plans, the impoverished and defenseless people of the ORB get the shaft while his filthy rich friends became super-filthy rich. According to one environmental study published in January 2014, "Construction of the Kuraz Sugar plantations (projected to cover 161,285 hectares) and accompanying infrastructure, including sugar processing factories and resettlement villages, has started in advance of completion of the Gibe III. The Kuraz Sugar plantations, plus additional area identified as suitable for cultivation (47,370 hectares), could eventually require over 50% of the Omo River inflow, depending on irrigation efficiency."

Meles Zenawi's "modernization" of the ORB was a windfall for his buddies, but it literally left the people of the Omo River Basin high and dry. Meles' vision for the ORB and its people was, "what's good for the 'Saudi Arabian tycoon Al-Moudi' and 'Mesfin Industrial Engineering' is good enough for the people of the Omo River Basin." That is how Ethiopians in the Omo River Basin got sold down the river!

The continuing race to save the Omo River and indigenous people

Last week, International Rivers released a video on the environmental risks to the Omo River valley and severe and irreversible damage that could result to the people and ecosystem of the valley if the dam and thoughtless "development" projects concocted by the regime in power in Ethiopia continue unrestrained. It is a video worth watching as it clearly explains the clear and present danger facing the ORB.

There is little scientific doubt that Gibe III dam and the irrigation diverting water on the Omo River poses a clear and present danger to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. Studies have shown that by ending the river's natural flood cycle, harvests, grazing lands, river banks and fisheries extending to Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake, would be destroyed. The dam will devastate the unique culture and ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, both recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Experts fear that "Gibe III could destroy the fragile ecosystem for an additional 300,000 people downstream in Lake Turkana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which gets up to 90% of its water from the Omo River."

It is particularly important for Ethiopians to understand the scope of the environmental damage and the human cost of the dam in the ORB. I specially urge my Ethiopian readers to view the Amharic version of the International Rivers video by clicking HERE or on the picture below.

USAID and Donors Assistance Group in Ethiopia (a/k/a those who "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" in the race to save the people of the Omo River Basin)

The official position of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Development Assistance Group's (DAG) (a consortium of 26 donors) in Ethiopia has been to stonewall any questions of human rights abuses in the ORB. Stated bluntly, their official response could best be characterized as: "We see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil about human rights violations in the Omo River Basin."

In October 2010, a few days after Human Right Watch released its report on the abuses of aid in Ethiopia, USAID and DAG issued a statement denying the "widespread, systematic abuse of development aid in Ethiopia. Our study did not generate any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion." In 2012, USAID reported that it "did not find evidence to support claims [of human right violations] during its visit to South Omo." In a letter dated January 17, 2014, Dennis Weller USAID, current Mission Director in Ethiopia stated that his agency and "other donors have been monitoring the situation in South Omo" and that "the main finding from these trips is that there are no reports of widespread or systematic human rights abuses. Our observations do not support assertions... that the resettlement processes are accompanied by systematic and widespread human rights abuses."

Interestingly, Weller's comments brushing off human rights abuses in the ORB are in stark contrast to his predecessor Thomas Staal's. In an interview Stall gave before his reassignment to Bagdad in October 2010, he made the stunning admission that "with respect to political participation, we have not done a good job. Specifically, with respect to the election that took place two years ago, we have not done much to promote democracy... This is a hard situation that causes us to despair." No reason for Weller to "despair" over human rights abuses in the ORB!

The official position of USAID and DAG with respect to human rights abuses in the ORB could be reduced to two basic propositions: 1) The reports by international human rights and environmental organizations concerning forced evictions, villagization, resettlement, denial of access to subsistence land, beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation, political coercion, and the denial of government assistance are all fabrications and lies. 2) Even if the reports are accurate, they document anecdotal and isolated incidents which do amount to "systematic and widespread human rights abuses".

USAID's denial of "systematic and widespread human rights abuses" in Ethiopia should not surprise anyone. For years, USAID has taken shelter behind the empty phrase "systematic and widespread human rights abuses". When Meles Zenawi declared in 2010 that his party had won the parliamentary elections by 99.6 percent, USAID found no "systematic and widespread human rights abuses". When the Meles regime was committing crimes against humanity in Gambella and Ogaden regions, USAID transformed itself into USA In Denial. When hundreds of top opposition political figures, activists, civil society leaders, journalists, dissidents, bloggers, human rights advocates were jailed, USAID's response was, "No systematic and widespread human rights abuses". Nope! Nyet! Nien! Pray tell, what exactly is "massive and systematic human rights violations"? Does USAID mean, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic"? Perhaps for USAID a single human rights violation in the ORB is a tragedy but the wholesale violation of the human rights of the people in the Omo River Basin is a statistic?!

The fact of the matter is that USAID and others who visited the Omo region in January 2012 were provided compelling "audio recordings of the interviews conducted in several Lower Omo communities." These recording "leave no room for doubt that the donor agencies were given highly credible first-hand accounts of serious human rights violations during the field investigation [undertaken by USAID and the Development Assessment Group] and that they have chosen to steadfastly ignore these accounts."

U.S. Congress joins the race to save the people of the Omo River Basin

In July 2013, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) included language in Senate Bill 1372 imposing certain certification requirements in the administration of U.S. aid in Ethiopia. The Leahy language was adopted in the "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014" which passed both houses on January 3, 2014. Section 7042(d) of the Act requires the U.S. Secretary of State to "certify to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Ethiopia is implementing policies to — (i) protect judicial independence; freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion; the right of political opposition parties, civil society organizations, and journalists to operate without harassment or interference; and due process of law; and (ii) permit access to human rights and humanitarian organizations to the Somali region of Ethiopia." It further requires that U.S. ''Development Assistance' and 'Economic Support Fund' that are available for assistance in the lower Omo and Gambella regions of Ethiopia shall— (A) not be used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions; (B) support initiatives of local communities to improve their livelihoods; and (C) be subject to prior consultation with affected populations." The law requires the "Secretary of the Treasury to instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to oppose financing for any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia." It seems the international human rights and environmental organizations that have been campaigning to protect the ORB and Gambella ecosystems and indigenous peoples have been right all along!!

Where are Ethiopians in the race to save the ORB and the indigenous people?

The titular prime minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is said to be knowledgeable about water development and sanitation. He reportedly held a "graduate assistantship" at Arba Minch Water Technology Institute. He is also said to come from "an Omotic community which forms the principal population group in Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region." It is reasonable to suppose that Hailemariam would take both personal and professional interest in the environmental destruction and human cost of "development" in the ORB. Unfortunately, Hailemariam has repeatedly declared the he "will strive to carry on Meles' vision to transform the country", and by the same token oversee the destruction of the ORB ecosystem and the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the Basin.

I admit it is a complete exercise in futility, but I urge Hailemariam and his regime to learn from the tragedy of Lake Oroumieh in Iran. That lake has shrunk by 80 percent in 10 years as a result of damning rivers and irrigation projects. The response of the Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, to the environmental disaster was "to form a team and to invite scholars to help find solutions."

I have no reason to believe that Hailemariam and his crew care much about Lake Turkana in which the Omo River empties or the environmental damage in the ORB. I know that a regime afflicted by the arrogance of ignorance will not invite scholars and experts in the field to seek long-term solutions. I expect the regime leaders will repeat like a broken record their Pollyannish rhetoric about the ORB and demonizing condemnation of all who urge caution and care. Regardless, I find it a historical imperative to register the fact that Hailemariam and Co., have a legal duty to mitigate the environmental disaster and human catastrophe in the ORB. After all, they must understand that "Truth will not remain forever on the scaffold, nor wrong forever remain on the throne."

What about Diaspora Ethiopians? Will they join the race to save their fellow Ethiopians damned by the Gibe III dam? Will they stand up and speak up for the voiceless, defenseless, powerless and helpless people of the ORB? Will they stand up and be counted with the people of the ORB or abandon them because they are a "backward civilization" as Meles Zenawi called them? Will they join International River, Human Rights Watch, Survival International and the Africa Resources Working Group in the heavy lifting and uphill fighting to save the Omo River Basin and its indigenous people? I do not know the answer to these questions, but I will be doing what I always do: Carry water (though not from the Omo River) for those doing the heavy lifting and uphill fighting!

"Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights/3 and international human rights law." United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 61/295.

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:



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:

20 Feb

"Omo River, Lake Turkana at Risk from Dams and Plantations"- International Rivers

Written by Published in News Articles
Last modified on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00

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:


 Fast Facts

Lower Omo River. Alison M. Jones (No Water No Life)
  • The Gibe III reservoir is expected to start filling at the beginning of the next Kiremt rainy season (approximately May 2014); filling the reservoir will take up to three years. During this time, the river’s yearly flow will drop as much as 70%.   
  • The Gibe III will provide stable flows year-round that will enable the growth of large commercial agricultural plantations in the Lower Omo. The Kuraz sugar plantation and additional areas identified for cultivation could eventually take almost half of the Omo River inflow to Lake Turkana. 
  • These projects will cause a decrease in river flow and the size, length, and number of floods, which will be disastrous for downstream users. This is the first year in which runoff from the Kiremt season, which is vital for flood-recession agriculture, restoration of grazing areas, and fisheries production, will be almost completely blocked. 
    Fishermen and their dried catch, Lake Turkana
    Fishermen and their dried catch, Lake Turkana
    • Changes to the flooding regime will disrupt fish spawning cues and decrease productive habitat for fish in Lake Turkana and the river. Lake fish catches may decrease.
  • Because the Omo River contributes almost all of Lake Turkana’s inflows each year, these developments could cause a big drop in lake water levels. Lake Turkana is projected to drop by about two meters during the initial filling of the dam. If current plans to create new plantations move forward, the lake could drop from 16 to 22 meters. The average depth of the lake is just 31 meters.    
  • በኢትዮጵያ በታችኛው የኦሞ ሸለቆ እየተገነቡ ያሉት ተያያዥ የልማት ፕሮጀክቶች በወንዙ የውኃ ፍሰት እና ከወንዙ ጋር ህይወቱን አቆራኝቶ በሚኖረው የአካባቢው ህብረተሰብ ዘንድ ታላቅ አደጋን ጋርጦ ይገኛል፡፡ እንደዚሁም በጊቤ ሶስት የኤሌክትሪክ ግድብ ግንባታ እና ከዚሁ ጋር በተያያዘ መልኩ እየተከናወነ ባለው ከፍተኛ የመስኖ ልማት ልማት ስራ ምክንያት በቱርካና ሀይቅ ላይ ከፍተኛ የሆነ የውኃ መጠን የመቀነስ አዝማሚያ በመከሰቱ በአካባቢው ብዝኃ ሕይወት እና የህዝቦች ኑሮ ላይ ከፍተኛ አደጋ ተጋርጧል፡፡
  • 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 Gibe III and associated irrigation projects will limit people’s mobility and ability to practice diverse livelihoods, which are important ways people in the region have adapted to climate variability in the past. 
  • The primary means of livelihood for about 500,000 people will be dismantled by the Gibe III and large-scale commercial agriculture. Conflicts over scarce resources are expected to increase.


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.

17 Dec

"Can Lake Turkana Be Saved?" by Lori Pottinger

Written by Published in News Articles
Last modified on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00

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.

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23 Aug

Turkana Killed by Merille Militia over Natural Resource Conflict

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Last modified on Friday, 23 August 2013 12:48

The Merille militia are suspected to have kidnapped and killed an estimated 11 Turkana men in less than two weeks. It all started with 4 fishermen who were kidnapped on the 1st of August and their bodies later dumped in the lake. These fishermen doubling up as reservists, were allegedly fishing on the Todonyang' border point when the incident occured. These attacks have been linked to competition for natural resources,specifically fishing areas that the respective tribes are dependent on.

For the past two years residents of the Todonyang' area near the Kenya-Ethiopia border have been forced to find refuge elsewhere in a bid to avoid the constant attacks. With ongoing projects such as the Gibe III dam and the planned irrigation projects to follow threatening the very existence of the lake, it begs the question. How much is the government doing to protect its citizens and the resources they are dependent on?

Recent reports have brought attention to the fact that a number of GSU officers have been sent to protect the border points. Marines have also been deployed in the area, according to a statement by the Turkana North DC,Eric Wanyonyi.

The Turkana and Merille tribes reside on their respective sides of the borders and share Lake Turkana,as a common source of food and water. However, the attacks are being made on Kenyan property. Lake Turkana,aside from being the World's largest dessert lake, is also home to nutritious and abundant fish stocks.

Additionally, three deltas around the Lake,which are considered Kenyan territory, have been occupied by armed raiders in a case similar to the Migingo islands. The Kenyan fishermen have been displaced as a result. The waters around these deltas are key breeding sites for fish giving the Merille militiamen an upper hand at access to the fish. The Kenyan government is making efforts to reoccupy the land according to Erick Wanyonyi.

This is just the beginning of what the two governments will be dealing with in the coming years, considering the many threats to both the natural resources and the functions that they play for the people. The killings are a very sensitive issue that needs to be handled with urgency and tact from both the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments.
It is not only a competition for resources but major issues like security and coexistence are affected. If it is not handled with the utmost care, the repercussions could be severe to say the least. In many countries around the world,natural resources go beyond the border points of states and sometimes the lines are blurred but solutions are found to suit both parties and encourage peaceful and mutually beneficial coexistence.

The Ethiopian government,through the Omorate DO Chumere Yerar promised to be committed to addressing the conflict between the Turkana and Merille along the common borders. The Ethiopian authorities stated that they found the boat stolen by the militia. The militia are yet to be captured by the authorities and more effort needs to be put in this cause so as to make an example of the perpetrators and discourage further incidents of this nature.

The Kenyan government,on its part should take this very seriously as a security threat and apply the necessary measures to protect its countrymen. There has been very little security in the area in light of the fact that this is not the first time the Turkana are being killed by a community from accross the border. Security is a vital step in the conservation and proper equitable use of natural resources that transcend physical borders.

Efforts aimed at communication between the two countries through both the elders and other authoritative figures are said to be underway. The relationship between Kenya and Ethiopia is under strain as a result of the killings and solutions should be found sooner than later, in ensuring peaceful coexistence between the two communities in conflict.

20 Jul

Kenya to hold talks with Ethiopia over Gibe III Dam

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Last modified on Monday, 22 July 2013 08:50

Kenyan government finally recognizes that Lake Turkana is in danger of disappearing due to the reduction in inflow of the Omo River as a result of the Gibe III dam construction and irrigation projects in Ethiopia. Cabinet secretary in the ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture, Dr. Hassan Wario, stated categorically that they plan to hold talks with the Ethiopian government.

The talks will be aimed at averting any harmful impact on the lake by ensuring that the water from the dam is allowed to flow back into the Omo River, hence continue to supply water to Lake Turkana, instead of diverting the water to irrigation schemes in Ethiopia.

The ongoing dam construction and impending irrigation projects are predicted to reduce the water levels of Lake Turkana by 33 feet. This places the heritage site in danger of being put on the endangered list. It could also compromise the Lake’s status as a world heritage site.

Silting is likely to occur leading to the depletion of fish stocks, which will affect the livelihood of those dependent on the Lake for food. The Lake supports 48 species of fish.

The Jade Sea, as it was known for several years, has great significance for its contribution to the evolution theory. With the discovery of the Turkana boy, it was placed on the map and is a key site for those interested in the origin of mankind.

The efforts made by Friends of Lake Turkana are finally beginning to bear fruit. The recognition of the danger faced by the lake, albeit, 5 years later, is a step in the right direction for the Kenyan government. We can only hope that the talks prove fruitful and that the two governments, having sustained a long standing friendship since independence, can come to a suitable agreement that preserves the interest and rights of both Kenyan and Ethiopian citizens.


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