Dam on Ethiopia’s Omo River Causing Hunger and Conflict

Nyangatom herders lead their cattle to the Omo River to drink. With Gibe III Dam holding back the river's water, grasses for livestock grazing and soil moisture for crop production have diminished downstream for the indigenous tribal communities, spreading hunger in the lower Omo Valley. Photo: Alison M. Jones, courtesy of International Rivers/Flickr/Creative Commons
Nyangatom herders lead their cattle to the Omo River to drink. With Gibe III Dam holding back the river’s water, grasses for livestock grazing and soil moisture for crop production have diminished downstream for the indigenous tribal communities, spreading hunger in the lower Omo Valley. Photo: Alison M. Jones, courtesy of International Rivers/Flickr/Creative Commons

In the lower Omo River Valley of southern Ethiopia, a spreading humanitarian emergency that threatens to spawn conflicts in the region is largely being met with silence from both the Ethiopian government and the international community.

The filling of the reservoir behind Gibe III Dam on the Omo River is holding back the flows needed by some 200,000 indigenous people in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya to sustain their food production and livelihoods.

“People are starving and dying,” according to a trusted source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from speaking out. “They need international support.”

The indigenous communities of the Omo Valley, including those of the Bodi, Hamer, Karo, Kwegu, and Mursi tribes, rely on the natural flood cycles of the Omo River for their sustainable practices of flood-recession farming, fishing and livestock grazing. Like generations of their forebears, they plant sorghum, maize and beans in the riverside soils after the yearly flood, relying on the moisture and nutrient-rich sediment the Omo deposits each year.

With the filling of the Gibe III reservoir, the needed water hasn’t reached the tribes’ riverside lands, curtailing harvests and grazing. Desperate to find grass, herders have moved their cattle into Mago National Park, which has unleashed fighting with government soldiers charged with protecting the park and its wildlife. Many pastoralists have been killed, according to my source.

The Ethiopian government views the Gibe III Dam as essential to its economic advancement. The dam rises 243 meters (797 feet), can —> Read More

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