We Cannot Eat Electricity: The Fight for Lake Turkana

January 14, 2015

Kenyan Goldman Prize winner Ikal Angelei has dedicated her life to fighting the construction of the Gibe 3 Dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. The dam, which is being built upstream on the Omo River by the Ethiopian government, will reduce water flow to Kenya’s Lake Turkana by 70%, drastically shrinking the lake, killing off ecosystems and jeopardizing the survival of some 300,000 of the world’s poorest people.

Thanks to Angelei’s activism, many of the dam’s major investors, including the World Bank, the European Development Bank and the Africa Development Bank withdrew their support for the project in 2011. Angelei was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2012 for this achievement.

However, with China (the project’s biggest investor) still on board, construction continued and today Gibe 3 is nearly complete. A power-purchasing agreement between the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, and World Bank support for secondary projects such as an electricity transmission line have also bolstered the dam’s progress.

With dam operations expected to move forward, environmental groups and local leaders like Angelei are shifting their focus from preventing construction to mitigating impacts and protecting local communities.

To shine a spotlight on these local communities and the potentially disastrous impacts they face, our partners at International Rivers recently released a report and video called “Come and Count Our Bones: Community Voices from Lake Turkana on the Impacts of Gibe III Dam.” The report is based on more than 100 interviews from locals living near Lake Turkana. See and share the video below:

“While we understand and appreciate the attractiveness for building dams for electricity as green energy, we need to recognize the impact of these ‘green developments’ on local communities; from increasing poverty because of loss of lands, to increased conflicts over less grazing and water,” Angelei said. “Many times now hydroelectric dams are used to provide water for large plantations, further exacerbating the loss of indigenous lands and increasing poverty.”

Large water-thirsty sugar cane and cotton plantations like those mentioned by Angelei above are being built by Ethiopia in the Omo River Valley and will divert even more of what little water is predicted to reach Lake Turkana, significantly compounding the struggle faced by downstream communities.

Join International Rivers and Ikal Angelei in calling on Ethiopia and its donors “to avert this human-made humanitarian disaster, stop water grabs from the Omo River and make sure the Gibe 3 Dam is only operated with sufficient downstream flows to sustain ecosystems and livelihoods in the Lower Omo Valley and around Lake Turkana.”

Click here to visit International Rivers and find out how you can help. 

Visit Friends of Lake Turkana on Facebook HERE, and use hastags #SaveLakeTurkana and #BeyondTurkana to join the conversation.

Tweet your concerns about Lake Turkana’s people to Kenya’s President and Cabinet Secretary of the Environment:

@JudiWakhungu – Prof. Judi Wakhungu
@UKenyatta – H.E. Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta