The Ethiopian government in partnership with the World Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China will see the completion of their project to dam the Omo River in the Omo Valley when the dam goes into operation in June, 2015. The dam, Gibe III, will force the creation of a new lake behind it and will restrain Omo River waters from flowing into Lake Turkana as they have done without interruption for 4 million years. One year’s worth of inflow will be lost to Lake Turkana as the water is kept back to fill the new lake behind Gibe III.
The shift in lake sites, lessening Lake Turkana and building the Gibe III lake, will swamp Omo Valley ecosystems while endangering the fragile Lake Turkana ecosystems. Also swamped will be the tribal villages and peoples of Omo Valley.
Omo Valley People
When Gibe III is activated in June 2015, the waters will be diverted to the large-scale irrigation projects of the foreign corporations that have grabbed land of around 248,570 square miles (643,801 square kilometers). The Ethiopian government, a cooperating partner in the land-grab with an aim of modernization of rural tribal areas, is planning to hand over twice this amount again very soon.
While the dam will initially reduce the lake depth by 66 feet (20 meters), over the short run, the lake will be reduced to smaller twin lakes with exposed ground between. Over the long run, Lake Turkana will be reduced to a sliver, like the Aral Sea has been by Russia’s 1960s massive irrigation projects. For the indigenous peoples of the eight tribes of the Omo Valley, the landscape and sustainable ecosystems will be forever changed.
The eight tribes comprise about 200,000 Omo Valley indigenous people, including the self-sufficient Mursi, with lifestyles that evolved across the millennia to adapt to the dry desert lake area around Lake Turkana. Some are nomads who herd sheep, cattle and goats. Some are small-scale farmers using shifting cultivation. Others graze livestock and farm in the fertile Omo River floodlands. The lake creates a natural territorial boundary between tribes.
Conflict from Lake Reduction
Once the natural lake boundary is removed, the people will face hunger, enmity and conflict. The lake and river ecosystems will change, leading to depleted and restricted resources. Nomadic herders will have lessened range for herds since the dam-lake will overwhelm much of the land behind the dam (think of something like the dam scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou? ). Fertile floodland herder-farmers will have to relocate. Aquatic ecosystems will be damaged and soon decimated by changing water levels, changing salinity and changing nitrogen levels. Chemical pollutants from mass irrigation-dependent cultivation of biofuels, cotton, maize, sugar and palm oil — all planned for export to industrialized countries — will endanger supplies of drinking, cooking, domestic sanitation and bathing water.
The competition for restricted resources for food and living could become fierce, as in Darfur, leading to open conflict between tribes and internal enmity within tribes. The Ecologist quoted one Ethiopian woman as saying:
They will come and kill us and that will bring about enmity among us as we turn on each other due to hunger.
Modernization and Villagization, Plantations and Hydroelectric Power
To facilitate the greed for modernization, the Ethiopian government enacted the “villagization” program intended to sweep tribal people out of the way into “purpose built villages” to leave unimpeded the land grabbing, the large-scale irrigated plantation farming, the hydroelectrical production of electricity exportation to China and the wholesale destruction of the Omo Valley ecosystems. The Ethiopian government has furthered this with a new infrastructure of 466 miles (750 kilometers) of internal roads to support the operation of the irrigated plantations. As The Ecologist states:
Losing their land also means losing the ability to sustain themselves. As Ulijarholi, a member of the Mursi tribe, said, “If our land is taken, it is like taking our lives.”
After Gibe III is operational, these eight tribes will have lost their opportunity for self-sufficient, sustainable food security, and the Omo Valley will be the next site of catastrophic global devastation, with Lake Turkana following in the path of the Aral Sea. As The Ecologist says, “short of an international outcry” before June, 2015, the future toll on human life and the ecosystems comprising the Cradle of Mankind will be fixed if not apparent in the present moment.