By Patricia Baquero
Along its 760-kilometer course, from the Shewan highlands in southern Ethiopia, down to Lake Turkana in Kenya, the Omo River supports half a million Indigenous People from more than two dozen different tribes, including the Bodi, Karo, Muguji, Mursi, Elmolo, Gabbra, Rendille and Hamar in the Lower Omo valley and around Lake Turkana. For generations, the Indigenous People have farmed sorghum, maize and beans along the lower Omo and around Lake Turkana region, depending on the annual flooding cycle of the river. The natural ebb and flow of the Omo River provides water for agriculture, livestock, and fishing.
But since the 1970s, droughts have increased in frequency and length, bringing famine and displacing thousands of people. Water scarcity and conflicts over water resources are also likely to worsen when the Gibe III Dam project finishes in 2012. The dam is situated about 300 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa with a capacity of 1,870 MW, and can provide power to 400 million people. Ethiopia is among the countries with the lowest rates of electricity—currently, only 15 percent of Ethiopians have access to electricity, and this access is mainly in cities.
But the dam potentially threatens the lives of the Indigenous farmers and fishers from the Omo-Turkana region. According to the African Resources Working Group (ARWG), the Gibe III dam will reduce the lake’s depth by about seven to ten meters in its first five years, adding to the effects of climate change, which has likely reduced the depth by about five to eight meters already. The dam will disturb the natural flooding cycle of the Omo River, eliminating the seasonal floods and the nutrients deposited along the river.