Falling water levels in Lake Turkana due to development of dams in Ethiopia are threatening food supplies in a part of Kenya where drought is already causing hunger, Human Rights Watch warned on Tuesday.
Data from the US Department of Agriculture shows a drop of about 1.5 metres in Lake Turkana’s water levels since January 2015, the rights group said.
It added that the shoreline in a gulf on the lake’s western edge has simultaneously receded as much as 1.7 kilometres over roughly the same period.
That time frame generally corresponds with the filling of Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam. Water that previously flowed unimpeded into Lake Turkana is being held behind the dam.
The gulf is a key source of fish for Kenya’s Turkana people, HRW noted.
Further reductions in the lake’s water levels are forecast as Ethiopia proceeds with a massive agro-industrial project in the lower Omo Valley. Indigenous pastoralist peoples in Ethiopia are also being negatively affected by the development of dams and sugar plantations, HRW said.
“The predicted drop in the lake levels will seriously affect food supplies in the Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which provide the livelihoods for half a million people in both Kenya and Ethiopia,” said Felix Horne, an Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
DEPENDENT ON FOOD AID
“The Ethiopian government’s moves to develop its resources should not endanger the survival of indigenous people living downstream.”
Turkana County accounts for a substantial share of the 2.7 million Kenyans currently dependent on food aid due to poor rains last year.
“Climate change is exacerbating the already significant problems the Turkana people face in getting sufficient food and water, and maintaining their health and security,” HRW observed.
But the Kenyan government “has done little to address the impact from Ethiopia’s Omo Valley development,” nor has it responded adequately to problems related to climate change, HRW said.
Kenya has specifically failed to press Ethiopia to take steps to mitigate the damage caused by the dam and to consult with affected communities about the impact of the project, the New York-based NGO stated.
The Climate Change Law approved by the Kenyan Parliament last year offers the potential to improve national and local responses to crises such as drought, HRW noted.
The group pointed out, however, that Kenyan authorities have yet to fulfill the law’s requirement for appointment of a representative from a “marginalised community” to the new National Climate Change Council.