Hydro-Power Politics: Lake Turkana and River Omo on Centre-Stage
The damming of River Omo in Southwest Ethiopia for hydro-power generation will affect negatively more than 200,000 agro-pastoralists in the region and Lake Turkana.
The Ethiopian agro-pastoralists use the river’s annual floods for agricultural production and to generate pasture for their livestock while River Omo is the major source of water for Lake Turkana.
The Italian firm, Salini, sources disclose, was awarded the tender by the Ethiopian government in 2006 to construct Gibe III dam in the lower Omo Valley despite environmentalists concerns which had expressed skepticism on the project.
The dam, which has attracted interests of other capitals, such as Tunis, Washington, Paris, Madrid and Rome, is partly financed by the African Development Bank.
Gibe III dam poses serious dangers to Lake Turkana. Several African scholars and consultants are in agreement that recession of Lake Turkana’s water depth and breadth are inevitable due to the interference of the River’s water flow.
Kenya supports the hydro-power project so as to secure more power for her industrialization and development needs such as Vision 2030 which aims at transforming Kenya into a medium income earner nation.
Others backing the dam construction for varied reasons are the East African Power Pool, the African Union, Italian government, the European Investment Bank, and African Development Bank.
Once the construction of the giant dam is completed, Addis Ababa plans to sell the electricity to Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea and Yemen.
Therefore, Gibe III dam, expected to be the second biggest dam in Africa, is part of Ethiopia’s 25-year energy master plan.
Lake Turkana is described as inland sea, and is best known as the world’s largest desert lake. According to Birdlife International, the Lake is an important bird area, with 84 water bird species.
The water body is therefore located in northern Kenya- between Chalbi desert in the east and Turkanaland in the west. Environmentalists are indeed concerned about the conservation and preservation of the heritage in Lake Turkana.
However, the project is on despite the campaigns. This is an indication that development needs and priorities at times override environmental concerns.
Western environmental lobby groups, Kenyan and Ethiopian civil society groups have teamed up to campaign against the construction of the Gibe III hydro-electric power plan on the River Omo.
Gibe III dam on the Omo Valley, earmarked to produce 1,870 mega watts of power, is located 190 km southwest of Addis Ababa. It is more than 240 metres high, and would have a reservoir of 151 square kilometres upon completion.