Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ethiopia’s great thirst for water power threatens survival of tribes

Kate Eshelby in HeraldScotland: ‘It’s better to kill us first,” Olikoro says, naked apart from a piece of cloth slung over his shoulder. An AK 47 rests by his side as he stares at the Omo river and contemplates his stark, ruined future. Olikoro, a man from the Mursi tribe, is talking about the Gibe III dam: the latest in a cascade of dams being built on the Omo river in south-west Ethiopia. The river begins its 500-mile journey in Ethiopia’s emerald highlands and drops through steep gorges to a sun-scorched valley before twisting towards the jewel of Lake Turkana in Kenya.

In Addis, Ethiopia’s capital, the dam is seen as essential for progress. But travelling along the river, deep into the Omo valley, one can see how the tribal people depend on the river – and how they dread the impact it will have on the lives of the half a million people.

The Omo valley’s 15 tribes use the river’s seasonal floods to nourish their crops. Each March and September rains fall onto the highlands, causing the Omo river to spill over its banks. It then retreats – ready for the people to return to newly replenished river banks to plant maize and sorghum. Once the dam goes up, the floods will stop. “If the dam is built we will die,” Olikoro says.

Terri Hathaway, from International Rivers, an organisation working to protect rivers and encourage sustainable energy, says when the Ethiopian government began building the dam environmental impact assessment papers – meant to highlight all possible negative impacts – made no mention of the tribal people living downstream. “The Government has no interest in these people,” says Hathaway. “The fact many of them wander around wearing few clothes is an embarrassment to them.” Many of the tribal people had no idea the dam was even being built until the Sunday Herald told them….

The Omo River delta at Lake Turkana, between Ethiopia and Kenya, via satellite, NASA

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