Lake Turkana Under Threat

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Lake Turkana is a miraculous anomaly of life-giving water in a parched and unforgiving land. Formed millions of years ago in the tectonic upheavals that created East Africa’s Great Rift Valley, Turkana is the largest permanent desert lake in the world. The lake is home to the world’s largest population of Nile crocodiles, hippos, and hundreds of bird and fish species. Its shores have revealed the oldest-known fossil remains of Homo habilis. Today, more than a quarter million indigenous peoples from at least ten tribes have become masters of wresting sustenance from the harsh landscape. Without the lake, life here would be virtually impossible.

Lake Turkana

Ikal Angelei

But Lake Turkana and its inhabitants now face an environmental catastrophe – and an avoidable one. The lake could start drying up when Ethiopia completes its massive Gibe 3 Dam upstream on Lake Turkana’s main water source, the Omo River. Ironically, Kenya plans to be a major purchaser of Gibe 3’s power.

While Kenya reportedly signed a power purchase agreement in 2006, no bilateral agreements on the use of the Omo-Turkana waterway and the dam’s downstream effects to Kenya are publicly known. The 300,000 people who live around Lake Turkana in Kenya were neither informed of the project’s impacts nor consulted on their priorities. Their situation mirrors that in Ethiopia, where the traditional economy of the Lower Omo Valley supports up to a half million people.

Turkana’s indigenous communities are highly dependent on the lake for their food crops, livestock grazing and watering, and fishing. Any impacts to the lake’s ecosystem would disrupt the economy, leading to an increase in conflicts in the area. Considering the unstable state of peace in Northern Kenya, such damage to the local economies would invoke a threat to regional stability.

Friends of Lake Turkana is calling on the Kenyan government to protect the interests of the peoples of northwest Kenya, and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

“All agreements with the Ethiopian government needs to be made public. We need to know if the impact on Lake Turkana was even considered. The peoples of Lake Turkana must be heard!”

More information

Read the Lake Turkana People’s Declaration

Read FoLT’s Request for Project Investigation

Read Another African Lake Under Threat (World Rivers Review, March 2009)

Spread the word and Save Lake Turkana! on Facebook

Visit the Turkana Basin Institute