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Ethiopian Gibe III Dam - a threat to the Omo River Valley tribal people

Updated on August 18, 2013

A dam of destruction

Work has already begun on a dam in Ethiopia that will bring destruction to the Omo River Valley and the lives of its thousands of tribal people. The Ethiopian government have approved the creation of the Gilgel Gibe II Dam, or Gibe III Dam, as it is also known and it has been revealed that 40% of it has been completed.

This dam will disrupt the normal flow of the Omo River that the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people depend on. It threatens to destroy their way of life and to kill off a unique forest that depends on its waters each year as well as causing a vast amount of environmental damage.

If all of that wasn't bad enough, in addition, it will stop the usual amount of water feeding Lake Turkana in Kenya. This lake is fed by the Omo River and over 300,000 people depend on it being full for fishing and their water supplies.

Omo River Valley tribal member

Omo tribal member. Photo by Hans Silvester
Omo tribal member. Photo by Hans Silvester

Omo River Valley tribes

Many of the tribes of the Omo River Valley have come to the attention of the world, not because of the dam that threatens their livelihoods but because of the amazing way they decorate their bodies.

They use flowers, plants and face and body paints to create works of art out of themselves. Some of the tribal people such as the Mursi use lip-plates amongst the body adornments which are part of their culture.

The eight tribes of the Omo River Valley are farmers and herders. They need water from the Omo River to keep their land able to support their animals and their own needs. They also catch fish from the river, as do those indigenous people who live around Lake Turkana. They need to be able to do this.

As a member of the Kwegu tribe is reported to have said: "We depend on the fish, they are like our cattle. If the Omo floods are gone we will die."

There is little doubt that their traditional ways of life will be seriously threatened, and indeed, disrupted and destroyed, by the dam.

The Omo River People

More about the Gibe III Dam

The Ethiopian government’s go ahead for the Gibe III Dam is actually threatening the food supply and local economies for as many as over half a million people in the south-western parts of the country and along the shorelines of Lake Turkana in Kenya.

Building work on the dam started back in 2006 with blatant disregard for Ethiopia’s laws being shown with regard to environmental protection, as well as the national constitution.

The $1.7 billion contract went to the Italian Salini Costrutorri construction company, although some serious questions have been asked because of the fact that impact assessments for the project were published long after construction had started and not before.

Ethiopia it appears is hoping to make hydropower a national export for the country, but detractors believe that climate change could cause this not to become a reality and for the whole project to be a massive waste of money, as well as meaning the destruction of so much natural environment and the end of a way of life for its inhabitants.

The government of Ethiopia is currently still on the lookout for international funding for the construction of the Gibe III Dam, but this could be a major mistake for one of the poorest counties in the world.

The Ethiopian government has stated that there are plans for an "artificial flood" to be created every year so that the tribal people will be able to carry on their lives as 'normal' but the dam's constructors have explained that this is only a temporary solution and that the long-term plan is to phase the people over to modern agricultural methods.

180,000 hectares of land, some of which is in Nyangatom, Karo and Mursi tribal territories, has been set aside by the Ethiopian government for future agricultural investment, however, the tribes whose land it is have not even been told about this. The tribes have not been consulted about the Gibe III Dam either.

Mursi tribe of Ethiopia

Action against the Gibe III Dam

The following organisations: Survival, International Rivers, the Campaign for Reform of the World Bank, the Counterbalance Coalition and the Friends of Lake Turkana have banded together to launch a petition against the Gibe III Dam being built.

The petition to the Ethiopian government is asking that they "suspend the Gibe III dam project on the Omo River unless and until it obtains the free, prior and informed consent of the affected tribes to the project".

You can help take action too by signing the STOP Gibe 3 Dam Petition here. There is another petition in the links below too. Please sign!

Interview with Ikal Angelei

© 2011 Steve Andrews


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for commenting!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      I think the picture of the Omo tribesman was your inspiration for dying your hair. Seriously, this is a pitiful problem and these people should be allowed to keep their lifestyle.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      You are very welcome!

    • hpedneau profile image

      Holly Pedneau 6 years ago from Princeton, West Virginia

      I absolutely love reading your hubs! I learn so much from them -- on information I would never be able to find on my own. Thank you so much for posting this.