Friday, January 22, 2010

Future wars could be fought over lakes, rivers

Mwaura Samora in the Daily Nation (Kenya): Water is one of the most sought after natural resources in Africa. Many wars, especially among pastoralist communities, have been fought over it while global warming and reckless human activity have taken a heavy toll on the continent’s major lakes in the past decades.

A UNEP-produced Atlas of African Lakes shows the drastic depletion of the continent’s major water bodies by comparing and contrasting past satellite images with contemporary ones. Complicating matters further, some of the biggest natural lakes in Africa are usually spread across national borders, which means the responsibility of ensuring there is a sustainable usage of their waters is shared between nations.

But more often than not there is a sort of scramble, with the countries involved selfishly trying to outdo each other in siphoning the lacustrine resources without giving much thought to a common and sustainable operating policy. Where agreements are drawn they are rarely honoured. The state of Lake Chad is probably the best illustration of this madness. Once Africa’s largest fresh water body supporting the livelihoods of about 30 million people in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger, the lake has shrunk by 90 per cent from 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s to less than 1,300 square kilometres today.

…Thousands of miles away from the dying Lake Chad on the Kenya-Ethiopian border is Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, which according to environmentalists is also on its deathbed. With about 500,000 people in both countries depending on the lake directly or indirectly for their survival, activists are bitterly opposed to Ethiopia’s plan to build the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric dam, the second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Situated 600 kilometres up the Omo River valley, the dam is a monolithic piece of architecture, with its wall soaring 240 metres high and holding back a 150 kilometre-long reservoir. Critics are complaining that the $2 billion (Sh150 billion) power project will interfere with the flow of the river that provides 80 per cent of water to Lake Turkana.

Although authorities on both sides of the border say the dam will only moderate but not change the total amount of water flowing into the lake, an independent collection of European, American and East African scientists under the African Resources Working Group (ARWG) insist the dam will have a catastrophic impact on Lake Turkana and its people since it will retain 11 billion cubic metres of water, enough to reduce the level of the lake by as much as four or five metres….

Satellite image of Lake Turkana, which straddles Ethiopia (on the north) and Kenya

1 comment:

Parag said...

The tragedy looks real as the Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric dam project is being built with the knowledge of the Kenya Government, which hopes to benefit from surplus power projected to be generated.
Lake turkana kenya