Kenya team in Addis over threat to Turkana

Monday May 25 2009

An El Molo boy fetches water from Lake Turkana. Security will be beefed up around Lake Turkana to promote commercial fishing activities. Photo/FILE

An El Molo boy fetches water from Lake Turkana. Security will be beefed up around Lake Turkana to promote commercial fishing activities. Photo/FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Julius Bosire and Argaw Ashine

Controversy surrounding the building of a hydro- power generation project in Ethiopia has prompted Kenya to send a delegation to Addis Ababa to assess its possible impact on Lake Turkana.

Environmentalists argue that the Gibe III dam project on Ethiopia’s Omo River could cause gradual death of the lake and wipe out the fragile ecosystem of the lower reaches of the river.

Although Kenya had earlier asked to partner with Ethiopia in the project, the Kenya ministries concerned are not in agreement, with a senior official saying that the Kenyan Ministry of Energy had single-handedly decided on the approach to be taken in the project.

A team of government officials drawn from the Ministries of Water, Foreign Affairs, Fisheries, Arid Development, Environment, Office of the President and the Attorney General’s office is expected to tour the area, some 300km southwest of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, from June 3-6, to assess the impact the project might have on the environment.

It is feared that if the project proceeds, there would be a radical reduction of inflow of water into Lake Turkana, since the Omo River provides 90 per cent of the total input of the lake. Two rivers, the Turkwell and Kerio, contribute much of the remaining 10 per cent.

An official in the entoura-ge told The EastAfrican: “There are co-operation rules on how a community or a state should use certain shared natural resources and that is what we are going to discuss with our Ethiopia counterparts.”

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Receding of the water level would affect fisheries, tourism and archaeological activity in the area. Environmentalists argue that the likelihood of leakages from the reservoir — which can go as high as 50 per cent — per cent would reduce the flow of water into the lake.

“Because most of the Omo Delta, as well as the northern and northeastern shorelines of Lake Turkana, is already intensively utilised for cultivation, livestock feeding, fishing and settlement and other subsistence activities by the region’s agropastoralists, this change would have immediate and devastating effects on the local subsistence economies that are already subjected to periodic severe hunger conditions,” said a report by the Africa Resource Working Group.

The researchers at the same time fear that reduced water flows into the lake would raise its salinity.

Following heavy criticism from rights groups, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that Kenya was in the process of investing in the dam project and that control measures would be put in place to ensure the environment was safe.

He, however, said Kenya could not easily fit into the initial plans for the project as its inclusion would have called for restructuring.

Kenya wanted the project to be done as a joint venture but since the project had already kicked off, this was not possible.

“This would have delayed the project; so Ethiopia decided to proceed on its own,” said Mr Zenawi.

The World Bank and the European Investment Bank, which Ethiopia hoped would back the project financially, have since indicated they do not want to get involved.

State-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, which owns the project, has so far received government funding and is looking to the African Development Bank (AfDB) for further financial assistance.

Gibe III is expected to produce 1,870MW a year and it is planned to regulate the Omo River, which floods annually, making it navigable all year.

The government argued that the 200 sqkm square reservoir created by the 240 metre-high dam could also be used as a fishery resource.

The first project on the river is 184MW Gilgel Gibe dam (Gibe I), completed north of Gibe III in 2004. Gibe II, which is still under construction, willdraw water from Gibe I’s reservoir through a 26-km long tunnel. When complete it will have a capacity of 420MW.

Gibe III, which is 30 per cent complete, requires nearly $2 billion. It is financed by Ethiopia with minimal assistance from the Italian government.

The country’s local power demand has also increased by 24 per cent, forcing it to resort to power rationing — more reason why the country is in desperate need of more electric power.

It has a 45,000MW hydroelectric power capacity and it is set to generate 3,150MW in the next three years.

Gibe III would generate 1,870MW for export to neighbouring states. It is one of the five projects in various parts of the country.

Ethiopia has an agreement to export hydro electric power to Djibouti (200MW), Kenya (500MW) and Sudan (200MW).

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