Hydro dam in Ethiopia will bring hunger and conflicts

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Decreasing water supply, loss of flood peaks and increasing salinity will have devastating effects on the eco system and the fish in the lake.

A hydro dam in Ethiopia will have enormous consequences for Lake Turkana in Kenya: the largest desert lake in the world. Experts fear that the lake will change into a desert.

This summer the Gilgel Gibe 3 dam will close the River Omo.

The first two (out of ten), turbines will start and fill the reservoir.

By 2016, the dam will be fully operational.

“The Gibe 3 Dam is one of the most destructive projects the last few years,” says director Peter Bosshard of the environmental NGO International Rivers. “We are deeply concerned that the dam will lead to widespread ecological destruction, famine and conflicts.”

Great expectations

The Ethiopian government has great expectations of this mega project (1.8 billion dollars). The nearly 200 m high dam with a capacity of 1,870 MW of power generation, will have to stabilize the energy supply for the booming economy of the country. Also, the barrier ensures enough water for irrigation.

Downstream, the government has planned 245,000 ha of sugar plantations on land from local tribes and in rich, partially protected, areas.

Crocodiles

Damming the Omo will have enormous consequences for the Lower Omo Valley and above all for Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

The largest desert lake in the world – famous for its crocodiles – is depending on the Omo for its water supply. This supply will decrease dramatically, mainly due to the irrigation projects. The water level can drop 20 meters! The lake will shrink and fall apart.

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The dam will affect an area characterized by conflict rooted in food and water insecurity.

Devastating effects

Decreasing water supply, loss of flood peaks and increasing salinity will have devastating effects on the eco system and the fish in the lake.

Regional climate will be affected: Lake Turkana is now cooling because it absorbs a lot of heat and it evaporates water.

Disaster

It will be a disaster for the poorest regions of Africa:

  • Half a million people in the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana basin are living from small scale agriculture, livestock and fisheries
  • They dependent on water from the Omo and the health of Lake Turkana
  • They live no more than one crop failure away from scarcity. Less water can lead to widespread famine.

Weapons

Damming the river will result in bloody conflicts in the region. A lot of weapons are circulating because of the wars in Somalia and South Sudan. Already there are more and more clashes about water between farmers and nomadic herdsmen and also between Kenyan and Ethiopian fishermen.

“People in the region say there is peace when there is enough water, but that scarcity immediately leads to war.” This is reinforced by the arrival of refugees in Ethiopia: local tribes have been thrown off their land.

Although there has never been  an environmental study done for the Gibe 3 Dam, social and environmental risks were the reason the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, withdrew from funding. But a Chinese bank jumped in.

Flood pulse

Hydro, power, Ethiopia, Asnake, Kenya

Azeb Asnake, CEO of EEP (left) on the contract signing ceremony for the construction of Geba Hydroelectric power, with one of the three JV Companies

Ethiopia did never consult its neighbor countries. CEO Azeb Asnake from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation recently said: “all environmental concerns are exaggerated. The dam will stabilize the flow of the Omo and make water more reliable. Moreover, Ethiopia, will give a ‘flood pulse’, for ten days every year.

Experts react that an artificial flood pulse will not be a substitute for the natural water peak at which the ecosystem of Lake Turkana is based on (and which, for example triggers the breeding season of the fish).

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