Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Making of Africa’s Aral Sea



We are species of self-professed fixers: our forbears domesticated plants and animals and liberated our kind from hunting and gathering; when natural capacity waned the genius of Haber and Bosch gave us inorganic fertilizers; Louis Pasteur advanced the germ theory and revolutionized microbiology and medicine.

In keeping with the tradition of our progenitors, the Ethiopian government is determined to fix chronic poverty and end decades of economic stagnation. According to the African Development Bank Ethiopia’s growth is strong with real GDP growth at or near double digits in six successive years. The Ethiopian leadership sees itself as engaged in an African rendition of the “Great Leap Forward”.

Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency is on course to transform a country that just two decades ago was the face of famine into Africa’s breadbasket. And Ethiopia's investment in hydropower is further changing the equation. Ethiopia is on track to complete mega dam projects, which will enhance its dominance on the East African Power market.

Gibbe III Dam on the Omo River will be critical to driving and sustaining Ethiopia’s economic renaissance. It is one of the biggest hydroelectric projects in the world with the expected capacity to generate 1,870 Mega Watts of power. There are plans to export 400 megawatts to neighboring Kenya. It is the dominant view of Ethiopia’s political that areas like the Lower Omo Basin can only be transformed by replacing traditional pastoral systems with large-scale irrigation to support large-scale agro-industries.

A new study published by International Rivers and endorsed by a galaxy of leading academics and experts warns that the Gibbe III Dam project could transform one of the world’s oldest lakes into Africa’s Aral Sea. Drawing from a sound scientific evidence base, the report, “The Down Stream Impacts of Ethiopia’s Gibbe III Dam: East Africa’s Aral Sea in the Making?” could trigger an avalanche of inexorable hydrological, ecological, socio-economic and political impacts.

The Omo River contributes about 90% of the inflow into Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake. Moreover, the Omo River inflows are critical for regulation the chemical composition and maintenance of the rich biodiversity of the Lake Turkana and the Lower Omo Basin, culture, livelihoods and economy of some 500,000 indigenous people in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The downstream consequences of the Gibbe Dam III project are complex and potentially irreversible. The International Rivers Report outlines four critical impacts, which demand urgent national, regional and international consideration.

1.     Given it location in the Omo Basin, Gibe III Dam will capture about 67% of the total river inflow. Hence, about two-thirds of the annual flood cycle, sediment and nutrients would be curtailed during reservoir filling. Moreover, the scale of irrigation to drive the agro-industrial development will reduce Lake Turkana’s volume by 58%, lower the lake level by 22m while doubling its salinity. Moreover, climate change could exacerbate the hydrological impacts of the dam.
2.     Gibbe III Dam will disrupt regular cycles of flooding, destroying the network of swamps vital for fisheries. The swamps also provide forage and browse for wildlife and livestock, support flood-retreat agriculture, and are valuable habitat for water birds that use the lake for their annual migrations between Eurasia and Eastern Africa.
3.     The Gibbe III Dam will cause the decimation of large mammal populations on a trans-boundary scale owing to habitat lose. Wildlife populations of the Omo floodplain migrate seasonally into South Sudan.  Wildlife on the Kenya side depends on the seasonally flooded areas around Lake Turkana.
4.     The disruption to the land, water, ecology and livelihoods of communities in Lower Omo Basin will have immediate and far-ranging political consequences. Local groups displaced from their livelihoods and homelands are likely to generate conflict as they seek resources on the neighbors’ lands in the Kenya-Ethiopia-Sudan borderlands. Well armed, historically polarized and often divided by support from different states, these conflicts can be bloody and protracted.

The report argues that the “Aral Sea” outcome is avoidable. What is needed is a raft of simultaneous and sustained interventions, including: action by the EU and the US to stop budgetary support to the Ethiopian government; challenging Kenya’s acquiescence of the Gibbe III Dam as an integral plank of its national energy security strategy; flagging the regional security and political stability consequences of the Gibbe III Dam; underscoring the vital ecological capital of the greater Omo Basin, especially the role of functional ecosystems in enhancing resilience to climate change; advocating the rights of indigenous peoples with regard to resources and livelihoods, including the significance of World Heritage Sites and the place of the larger Omo Basin in the human evolutionary story.  

The Gibbe III Dam project demonstrates the flaws of traditional linear approaches to public policy and development planning. Policy makers and indeed governments are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other. Public policy, planning and development are characterized by dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of fluid factors, which often interact with each other and generating hitherto unanticipated phenomena.

Problems of development planning are wicked ones with multiple tradeoffs, conflicting goals and often bedeviled by incomplete understanding, uncertainty and surprise. What we need for policy formulation and development planning are approaches that embrace complexity and systems thinking. Such approaches challenge the classical assumptions of benign linear knock-on effects and static contexts characterized by non-dynamic feedback.  

1 comment:

  1. Abiy, Ethiopia.

    You guys have to take some economics basics into consideration, i suppose. life is always about making choices in this world. But the question is, about how we make the right and best choices or wrong and poor ones.You seem to worry about millions of leaves that are going to dry, showing no care about the million of Ethiopian lives which in fact currently are dying and starving to death. Dont you think there can be so many ways you can suggest sustainability of some indigenous plants and insects after you care about the indigineous citizens? Nature is created for a man, not a man is created for nature. Its when a man is secured and living safely that he starts to care for nature. That is how it goes. Think about that. Or do you want the people in some area should have to extinct so that people in some other part of the world should think the world is a better place because its good in some spupid scholars eyes to think there is sustainability in some poor part of the world at the expense of its citizens lives and development? It is amazing how you are thinking. i am not such a professional but in my eyes, what you are saying is not even difficult for any one to understand that its worth not even considering. i wonder these days why some scholars think no better than hitler. lets save these millions of peoples lives, improve their livelihood and they will save those leaves that you seem to care so much for. In fact im not sure if you are. What do you say? isnt that a win win deal enough for you? So please stay away and wait to see this poor country develop if you can. And dont worry, I believe the Ethiopian Government care so much for those sustainability than you do and will strive to make sure those concerns are not treats at all.

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