Ethiopia's Endangered Lower Omo Valley

Terri Hathaway
Monday, January 26, 2009

“The rise and fall of the Omo waters is the heartbeat of the Lower Omo Valley. More than any other single factor, the river determines everyday economic practice throughout the region.”

The Lower Omo Valley is home to a half million people, a significant number of whom practice flood retreat cultivation and other traditional agro-pastoralist livelihoods.  At least eight distinct indigenous communities depend on the Omo River’s flood cycle: the Mursi, Bodi, Muguji (Kwegu), Kara (Karo), Hamar, Bashada, Nyangatom and Daasanech.

Since 2006, construction of the Gibe 3 hydropower dam project has been underway on the Omo River and two more dams (Gibe 4 and Gibe 5) are planned. The Gibe 3 Dam will greatly alter the river’s flow and reduce the seasonal flooding, disrupting the entire subsistence economy of the Lower Omo Valley. Most people living in the Lower Omo Valley have heard little or nothing about the project and their options, even though the changes to the Omo will upset the fragile balance of river bank cultivation and herding they maintain, unraveling the valley’s best strategy against food insecurity. Resulting scarcity could quickly lead to violent conflict in one of the most culturally diverse areas of Africa.

The Ethiopian government has not considered either the rights of these communities or the risks that the Gibe 3 Dam poses to them. There are concerns that project planning has and will continue to result in violations of human rights outlined in Ethiopia’s constitution and the 2007 UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.  The government provides few services to the region, considered home to some of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable communities. Mitigation and compensation measures related to the dam’s impacts are feared to be wholly inadequate, undermining the existing subsistence economy and impoverishing a politically vulnerable population.

    More information: 

    Visit University of Oxford's Mursi Online

    Visit No Water, No Life, photographer Alison Jones' expedition to the lower Omo River communities

    Award-winning photographer, Brent Stirton, shares his  photographs and travel blog: "In the sprawling, desolate Southern Omo River Valley region of Ethiopia are several tribes living as they have for centuries..."