Ethiopian dam spells death for Lake Turkanahttp://www.standardmedia.co.ke/InsidePage.php?id=2000001463&catid=259&a=1
Updated 19 hr(s) 28 min(s) ago
In the wake of the ongoing rains, the vast expanse around Lake Turkana is a beautiful landscape, sprouting with colour from wild flowers in fulbloom and tall, green elephant grass.By Lepalo Gideon
After a long, three-day journey by hardy vehicles, under endless open skies across some of Kenya’s most expansive rangelands, the journey finally winds into the turquoise lake that looks like a glittering extension of the land.
In 1964, British travel writer John Hillaby, who travelled by camel caravan for 1,000 km to the lake, was so enthralled by the sight, which he described as ‘an oasis in the middle of nowhere’, in his book, Journey To The Jade Sea.
However, this beauty that has for many years drawn tourists and travellers to behold its enthralling presence has been in the news of late, as an environmental gem threatened with extinction. A huge hydro-electric power dam, under construction on the Ethiopian side of the border, will divert the river Omo, the main vein that empties into Lake Turkana.
Environmental experts have warned repeatedly that the project will kill the lake. The section of the river, from the dam to Lake Turkana, will dry up completely as the eleven billion cubic metre reservoir is filled up.
The Gibe III Dam is already at an advanced stage of construction, a private partnership planned as part of a 25 year national energy master plan in Ethiopia. Its walls will be 240 metres high, with a reservoir stretching 151 km, making it the second largest dam in Africa after the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
Boys carry home a fish left behind in a fishing boat. [PHOTOS: PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD]
Local and international impact reports have indicated the Turkana could start drying up once the huge dam, owned by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO), cuts off the river.
An accurate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done on the lower Omo Basin indicates the completion of Gibe III Dam would produce a broad range of negative effects which will be catastrophic within the sub region of Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
"The massive reduction of inflow to Lake Turkana will be the immediate impact, given that the Omo River provides over 80 per cent of the total water flow into the lake," stated the EIA report.
The other rivers, Turkwel and Kerio, are seasonal and can barely sustain the lake’s water level.
The report indicates that inevitably the shorelines of the saline lake will recede, leaving vast tracts bare as it ebbs to its death.
Already, due to long dry spells, the vicinity of the lake has been turning into another Sahara Desert that has already eaten into the neighboring forested Mt Kulal or Gatab
"Total destruction of the environment and elimination of forest, woodland and total mutilation of biodiversity and all riverine economic activities — including human activities and settlement will likely follow," stated the report.
The lake is the source of livelihood for more than 3,000,000 indigenous pastoralist people.
Inference with its ecosystem will make it too saline for any marine life to survive. All communities living around the lake depend on fishing.
In a region is famous for all the wrong reasons, littered with small fire-arms and prone to ethnic clashes, the decimation of a common source of livelihood for a large population is equated by several other reports as a humanitarian catastrophe in the making.
"Cutting off the main source of livelihood can only heighten the intense conflicts emanating from inadequate supply of resources for their mutual survival," says the EIA report.
Irked by government indifference to the looming danger, residents, led by an NGO, Friends of Lake Turkana (FLT), recently demonstrated at Kalokol in Turkana North to drive their point home.
Ms Ikal Angelei, FLT chairperson, explained the realities of the endangered lake, saying it would never be the same again once the dam closes off its main water source.
Go to war
"Nobody can touch the Nile from Alexandria (Egypt) down to its source at Jinja (Uganda). Egypt can even go to war if the river is interrupted. Why is our Government allowing this violation to our right," Angelei said.
Turkana politicians led by Mr Christopher Nakuleu, an East African Legislative Assembly MP, said in a joint statement that the Turkana, Rendile, Dassanch, Elmolo and Gabbra, who depend on the lake for food and water, would be affected.
"It is recognised that any interference with the Lake Turkana ecosystem could be catastrophic, but no effort has been made to avert disaster," says Pius Ewoton, the Executive Director of Arid Lands Integrated Programme.