BY DR ALEX AWITI,
Three months ago in this column, I warned that the completion of Ethiopia's Gibe III dam on the Omo River could transform Lake Turkana, the world's only desert lake, into Africa's Aral Sea. Impassioned by China-style great leap forward philosophy, the Ethiopian government has pursued the development of the Gibe III dam in total disregard to the consequence associated with it.
The Ethiopian government and multilateral donor institutions present the Gibe III dam project as critical to national and regional energy security and contributing to poverty alleviation. A new report from the African Resource Working Group (ARWG) reveals that the completion of the Gibe III dam on the Omo River will touch off socio-economic, political and ecological collapse in the tri-state border region of the Great Horn of Africa.
According to the ARWG report, a major review by the African Development Bank of the hydrological impacts of the Gibe III dam on Lake Turkana omitted any assessment of the dependence of the livelihoods of local communities on the lake's resources. Moreover, the assessment by the Ethiopian government shows no regard for Kenya's sovereignty over Lake Turkana's northern shoreline zone and a significant portion of the Omo Delta.
The author of the report, Claudia J. Carr, associate professor at University of California at Berkeley, argues that no credible assessments of the environmental and social cross-border impacts of the dam have been conducted. The report charges that the assessments of the dam's impact were fragmentary and riddled with major omissions, inaccuracies and even fabrications.
For instance, the Ethiopian government and the dam proponents suggest that a 60-70% drop in inflows would only cause a 2m-drop in lake levels. The report suggests that the Ethiopian government, international development banks and global commercial investors have operated with the precondition despite glaringly inadequate appraisal of the impacts of Gibe III mega-dam project.
The Gibe III reservoir would be 150 km long, in a narrow gorge with covering an area of 211 square kilometers, with a storage volume of 11,750 million cubic meters; an amount equal to about two years of the Omo River's flow causing a 60-70% reduction in the volume of the Omo River, which contributes 90% of inflow into Lake Turkana. This will reduce Lake Turkana's volume by 58%, lower the lake level by10-22m while doubling its salinity and putting nearly 500,000 pastoralists and fisher folk at the risk of famine and conflict.