Defending Lake Turkana

The Gibe 3 Dam, now under construction on the Omo River in Ethiopia, is already fanning  tensions over natural resources, all the way downstream to Kenya. By dramatically changing water flows in the river, the dam will wreak ecological and social havoc for half a million people living downstream of it, including Kenyan communities around Lake Turkana, which gets virtually all of its water flow from the Omo.

Local activists are at the forefront, and working hard to keep this critical fight in the public eye. Watch our slideshow narrated by Ikal Angelei of the Kenya-based Friends of Lake Turkana to learn more about this brewing battle over water, dams and natural resources.

The Ethiopian government has long restricted public debate on the project, but the climate of fear is worsening in the run-up to national elections in April. Most recently, students who had protested environmentally damaging projects disappeared; they are feared kidnapped.

Community activists in Kenya are stepping up to the challenge, however, and vocal opposition to the project is growing. In mid-January, local people held a series of protests to call for their government to do more to protect Lake Turkana and to say no to the dam. Their peaceful protests garnered extensive media coverage.

Friends of Lake Turkana is especially alarmed about the lack of reliable information on how the changes to hydrology will affect the lake – and people's livelihoods. 

"It is unclear how much the Gibe 3 will affect Lake Turkana," Paul Ikmat, a hydrologist, told the Daily Nation. "Nobody has really done the studies. But as a hydrologist I find it hard to see how it couldn't have a significant effect. If the level falls any further, there is real danger that the water will become too alkaline to drink and damage the delicate fisheries."

"We are depending on a country that is known for drought, known for rainfall failure, to provide expensive power to Kenya. The Ethiopian dam project is going to bring nothing but tragedy and harm to Kenya," renowned archeologist and environmentalist Richard Leakey told an AFP reporter. "There is no future for hydroelectric schemes in arid parts of Africa."

In addition to working closely with Friends of Lake Turkana, International Rivers is leading the charge to stop the international financial institutions – the World Bank, African Development Bank and European Investment Bank – from funding this project. "The impacts simply can't be mitigated," says Terri Hathaway, our Africa program director. Learn more about efforts to raise awareness about this project's problems with the African Development Bank (which is leading the funding effort for Gibe 3). Keep an eye on these pages for updates on the World Bank, which in the cominig months will begin evaluating its own involvement in the project.

More information: 

Visit International Rivers’ Gibe 3 Campaign

Visit Friends of Lake Turkana’s website

 “Ethiopian dam to wreck lives in Kenya: activist” (AFP, Jan. 20, 2010)

 "Why residents want Ethiopian dam on River Omo stopped urgently" (The Standard, Jan. 21, 2010)

"Future wars could be fought over lakes, rivers" (Daily Nation, Jan. 21, 2010)

"Dam could spark water wars" (part of a BBC special on the dam, March 2009)

"Ethiopian Dam spells death for Lake Turkana" (The Standard, Jan. 22, 2010)

Watch TV footage of Turkana protests