Dam and Irrigation Projects Threaten Lake Turkana

January 11, 2013
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Omo River Delta as it enters northern Lake Turkana. © Alison M. Jones

Kenya’s Lake Turkana is the terminus of Ethiopia’s Omo River, which supplies 90% of the lake’s volume. L. Turkana (180 miles long and up to 30 miles wide) is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and largest alkaline lake. At 1,200 feet elevation, the lake is a closed (endorheic) basin, with high evaporation rates of 2.3–2.8 m/yr. Its high salinity ranges from 1.7–2.7%, due to no outlet, lower volume in the last 7,500 years, and recent volcanic activity.

The Omo River and L. Turkana are lifelines to indigenous Ethiopians and Kenyans. Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 hydro-dam, now in construction, will greatly decrease the Omo’s flow into L. Turkana. The Lower Omo Basin supports 200,000 indigenous agro-pastoralists. The Turkana Basin is home to 300 to 500 thousand people who depend on lake water for sustenance.

A new report documents how a dam and series of irrigation projects being built in Ethiopia threaten the world’s largest desert lake, and the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it. It describes how hydrological changes from the Gibe III Dam and irrigation projects now under construction in the Omo River Basin could turn Lake Turkana in Kenya into East Africa’s Aral Sea (the infamous Central Asia lake that almost disappeared after the diversion of rivers that fed it). Download the full report.

International Rivers and Friends of Lake Turkana are calling for a halt to construction until there is a complete accounting of how the dam and irrigation projects will harm Lake Turkana, and a plan to ensure the lake does not suffer a hydrological collapse.
View photo gallery of Turkana people.

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Carrying water and reeds from L. Turkana. © Alison M. Jones

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