Ethiopia: UNESCO asks Ethiopia to suspend the construction of Gibe III Dam
A new “State of Conservation” report by UNESCO recommends the World Heritage Committee inscribe Lake Turkana on the List of World Heritage in Danger. They ask Ethiopia to not fill the dam and to halt the construction of the large scale irrigation projects until a comprehensive social and enviro study of the developments is completed and appropriate mitigation measures are identified to guarantee sufficient inflow of water to Lake Turkana”
On 31 January 2014, the State Party of Kenya submitted a short progress report, which is available athttp://whc.unesco.org/en/ list/801/documents.
The report refers to a high-level meeting which took place in January 2014 between the States Parties of Kenya and Ethiopia to discuss the modalities of sharing information and preparing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) relating to developments on the Omo River in Ethiopia. It was agreed that:
The State Party of Ethiopia would provide all necessary background information concerning developments on the Omo River which might impact the OUV of the property, for study by the State Party of Kenya (February-April 2014); A follow-up meeting will be held in May 2014 to discuss issues, decide on a course of action and engage a multi-disciplinary team of consultants to carry out a SEA of the Lake Turkana Basin, identifying appropriate mitigation measures to ensure maintenance of the OUV of the property; At the time of the above-mentioned meeting in May 2014 representatives of the State Party of Kenya will be invited to visit the site of the Gibe III dam; A draft of the state of conservation report will be completed by December 2014 and finalised in time for submission by the State Party of Kenya by 1 February 2015.
The State Party of Ethiopia did not invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to review the impacts of the Gibe III dam and related developments as previously requested by the Committee at its 35th, 36th and 37th sessions.
Analysis and Conclusion
Initial bilateral discussions have been held between the States Parties of Kenya and Ethiopia and it is recommended that the Committee welcome this development. While the reports states that the Strategic Environmental Assessment of developments in the Omo River basin and their impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property were discussed, the report provides no clear timeline for the preparation of this study.
The construction of the Gibe III dam and development of large-scale irrigation schemes in the lower Omo Valley seem to have continued uninterrupted despite the Committee’s earlier requests to the State Party of Ethiopia to suspend developments until the SEA had been completed and to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission. It should be recalled that the Committee decided not to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger on two previous occasions, to allow the mission to take place and consider its findings, and before the likely severe ecological and social consequences for Lake Turkana, the property, and the livelihoods of surrounding communities have been adequately considered in the planned SEA
News reports, which indicate that the filling of the reservoir is scheduled to commence this year, are noted. A letter was sent to the State Party of Ethiopia on 31 March 2014 to verify this information but at the time of writing this report no reply was received. In addition, it should be recalled that ongoing development of large-scale irrigation schemes could significantly amplify the severe impacts of filling the reservoir, as these would further reduce the flow of water to the lake. The most important one, Kuraz Sugar Scheme is developed by the state-owned Ethiopian Sugar Corporation. According to the website of the Corporation, 175000 ha of sugar cane will be planted and the irrigation of these fields will be ensured through a water diverting scheme from the Omo River.
Recent publicly available satellite imagery of the lower Omo valley clearly shows newly-built irrigation channels and large-scale agricultural development.
A number of new studies confirm the likely hydrological and other changes that dam filling and irrigation schemes will cause. According to these studies, the filling of the dam will result in a drop of the water level of the lake of 2 m. The Kuraz Sugar Scheme could deprive Lake Turkana of 50% of its water inflow, which experts consider would result in a lowering of the lake level by an estimated 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km. The ambitious agricultural development plan for the lower Omo, if fully implemented, could cause the waters of the Omo River to no longer be able to replenish Lake Turkana at all, and undoubtedly lead to the loss of the OUV of the property, and have detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of local communities who depend on the lake.
In view of the severity of the potential impacts, and the immediacy of the threat, with the imminent filling of the dam and the diversion of water for the irrigation schemes, it is recommended that the Committee immediately inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.