Water, Land, and Oil: Drivers of major upheaval in the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana


4° 28' 41.754" N, 35° 59' 56.922" E

Water, Land, and Oil: Drivers of major upheaval in the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana

Major changes are sweeping through the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana in Ethiopia and Kenya. The expansion of commercial agriculture and plans to produce oil and electricity in the region have already caused huge amounts of upheaval. The imminent completion of the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River will cause a drop in Lake Turkana’s water levels and allow the Omo River’s flow to be diverted for irrigation year-round. Downstream of the Gibe III, enormous tracts of land have been set aside for large agricultural plantations growing thirsty crops such as sugar and cotton. Roads and factories are being built to transport and process the crops, large areas of land have been cleared, and extensive irrigation canals now stretch from the Omo River to provide water for fields. Additionally, the discovery of a large aquifer and massive oil reserves in the Turkana region brings another category of risks that typically accompany large-scale resource extraction. 

Local people have not had a voice in the development process surrounding these projects, and in many cases are experiencing great harm as their land and livelihoods are taken from them. The implementation of these projects has violated the protection of basic human rights. For many people, especially the most vulnerable people in the region, opportunity is turning into tragedy.

This fact sheet describes some of the changes happening in the Lower Omo Valley and the Turkana region and their implications for people and the environment. Developments are framed within their broader context, and many of the major companies working in the region are identified. Finally, recommendations for the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia are provided.

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