The Mursi are one of the tribes living along the Omo Valley.
The Mursi are one of the tribes living along the Omo Valley. © Eric Lafforgue/Survival

Kenyan MPs and the UN’s World Heritage Committee have called on Ethiopia to halt construction of the controversial Gibe III dam on the Omo River.

In its annual report published last month, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee expressed ‘its utmost concern about the proposed construction of the GIBE III dam and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana’, a World Heritage Site since 1997.

It fears the fragile hydrological cycle and water species will be damaged as the dam will cause the level of the lake to drop significantly.

Lake Turkana lies on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia and is fed by the Omo River in Ethiopia.

The Committee urged the government of Ethiopia to ‘immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam” and asked ‘all financial institutions supporting the GIBE III dam to put on hold their financial support…’

It also expressed its concern about the ‘potential cumulative impacts of the proposed GIBE IV and GIBE V dams and large-scale irrigation plans on the Lake Turkana site’.

Ethiopia is leasing out large tracts of tribal lands in the South Omo region to foreign and state run companies to grow sugar cane and to export crops and biofuels, which will leave many tribes unable to feed themselves and graze their livestock.

Opposition to these leases is being brutally suppressed. Survival has received reports stating that indigenous people are being beaten up and jailed if they raise their concerns.

In a motion debated in Kenya’s parliament on 10 August, various MPs expressed their concerns about the impact of Gibe III on the tribes who live around Lake Turkana in Kenya.

One MP said it would negatively impact six tribes in the area and place a severe strain on resources in an already volatile region.

Another MP accused the Kenyan government of ignoring the plight of its own people by not opposing the Gibe III dam, which she said would destroy the livelihoods of the people around Lake Turkana, and affect their independence.

Kenya’s parliament passed a resolution that the government of Kenya should demand that the Ethiopian government halt construction of Gibe III dam until a full, independent, social and environmental impact assessment is carried out.