December 11, 2015

Omo Valley in Ethiopia threatened by modernisation, in pictures

 Less than 10 000 semi-nomadic Mursi live to the east of the Omo River in south-west Ethiopia. The Mursi are agro-pastoralists; they migrate to the banks of the Omo and during the wet season they live in the savannah to the east. The Ethiopian government’s Kuraz sugar development encroaches on the Mursi’s ancestral lands; threatening both their cultivation and herding practices.

 The Omo river, dammed for the US$1.8 billion 1,870-MW Gibe III hydroelectric dam. The increase in lake salinity and the decrease in the nutrient-rich annual floods are likely to cause food shortages which will increase the risk of armed inter-ethnic conflict over grazing land. Because changing weather patterns often cause drought and starvation, it is clear that even a small change in the environment could have catastrophic impacts here.

 In June 2011 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called for the construction of Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam to be halted while the impact on Lake Turkana, pictured, could be assessed. The potential consequences have been likened to the world’s worst ecological disaster: that of the drying up of the Aral Sea.

A bridge built in 2015 by the Chinese (in 58 days!) spans the Omo River making the remote western bank more accessible. This will allow for future farming developments on Nyangatom land.

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