The River Provides for Us: One Woman's Story

More than 500,000 indigenous people in two countries are threatened by the construction of the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River in Ethiopia. If built, the dam would destroy the fragile ecosystem of the Lower Omo Valley and Kenya's Lake Turkana region. This is one woman's story from that struggle. For safety reasons, her identity and tribe have been changed.

A woman from the Omo Valley. (Photo: © Jane Baldwin)
A woman from the Omo Valley. (Photo: © Jane Baldwin)

We live here because of the Omo River. No other reason. Our culture is here. This land belonged to our fathers and father's father's father. All Omo people grow up here along the Omo River, get married here and have their children here. We depend on the Omo River for our fish, for planting our sorghum, to water our cattle and goats. We are busy with our own river working and feeding ourselves. All the Omo people, Dassanach, Mursi, Nyangathom, Kara, Kwego, this river provides for us, like mother's milk for our babies, it feeds us. Without talking to us, to any of the tribal elders, the government makes the decision to build the dams and to take our water. Last year the river was low, low, too low, and we did not get much sorghum from the banks of the Omo. The harvest was not enough to feed us. We are OK until the next harvest, but after that we are not sure what will happen.

We might not be educated, but we know, we know what is going on. The government people start explaining to us about the dam. Talking smoothly, trying to convince us, but they have already started the project. And when we follow everything they say from their mouths, we realize they are cheating us. They are taking this river to sell the hydroelectric power. Without knowing us the government continues doing their business and is ready to sell this river and they are feeding and raising their children with that money, but what about us? What about our children? The government is lying to us. They tell us "there are rumors," and to not believe what the ferenji (foreigners) say. They say, "The ferenji are lying. We are not going to take all your water. We will take some, but you let us know when you need water and we will release a bit for you."

We say, that if this river is taken from us, we might as well kill ourselves so we won't have to starve to death. Omo people need support. We depend on the river, so wherever you go, tell people we need their support. Tell everyone.