UN puts pressure on Ethiopia over controversial Gibe III dam

Mursi boy, Omo Valley. ©Joey L/www.joeyl.com

 

A Mursi boy from Ethiopia’s Omo valley leans on a stick used for ‘thagine’, the tribe’s ritual duelling, and stares at the camera. His upper arms are decorated with beaded cuffs, his face painted with white clay.

The lower valley of the Omo River is believed to have been a cultural crossroads for thousands of years, where a vast diversity of migrating peoples have converged.  At least eight different tribes, including the Mursi people, live in the region and depend on the river, having developed ecological practices over generations that are intricately adapted to its flooding cycles.

Today, Survival International has released the news that the UN’s concern is growing over Ethiopia’s construction of the Gibe III dam, a vast hydroelectric dam which will block the south-western part of the river, end the Omo’s natural flooding cycles and joepardize the tribes’ sophisticated flood-retreat cultivation methods.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has given Ethiopia until the end of January 2012 to provide reliable evidence that independent assessments have been carried out, and that tribal people in the region have been properly consulted.  The UN’s World Heritage Committee has also written to Ethiopia, calling for it to ‘immediately halt all construction’ and for ‘all financial institutions supporting the Gibe III dam to put on hold their financial support.’

Both the Omo Valley, and Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which is fed by the Omo river, have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

‘If the government dams the Omo Valley tribes’ water, these peoples may not survive’, said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International.

‘There is no singing and dancing along the Omo River now,’ said a Mursi man.  ‘The people are too hungry.  The kids are quiet.’

 

Changing Planet

Joanna Eede was an editorial consultant to Survival International with a particular interest in the relationship between man and nature and tribal peoples. She has created and edited three environmental books, including Portrait of England (Think Publishing, 2006) and We are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples (Quadrille, 2009). Joanna writes for newspapers and magazines on subjects such as the repatriation of wild Przewalski horses to Mongolia, the whales of the Alboran sea, the chimpanzees of the Mahale rainforest, uncontacted tribes of the Amazon rainforest and the Hadza hunter gatherer people of Tanzania. Future ideas include a book about Tibet’s nomads.