Lake Turkana under threat from hydropower dam and irrigation development

Lake Turkana in the Kenyan Rift valley is the world’s largest desert lake but could shrink dramatically due to a hydropower dam being built upstream and plans for large-scale irrigation. This could be another Aral Sea disaster, says a new Oxford University study

The Gibe III hydropower dam is currently under construction on the Omo River which supplies 90 per cent of Lake Turkana’s water. Due for completion in 2014, the dam will permanently alter the flow of the river which will have devastating impacts on floodplain ecology, the productivity of the Lake’s fisheries and the livelihoods of the local population.

By regulating the flow of the river, the dam will also enable massive irrigation schemes in the Lower Omo. Irrigation development being planned by Ethiopia could abstract up to 50 per cent of the river’s inflow into Lake Turkana. The research shows that this could cause the lake to drop from 30 metres to under 10 metres in depth, being reduced to two small lakes.

This study, written by Dr Sean Avery for Oxford University’s African Studies Centre, is one of the outcomes of the AHRC-funded project, ‘Landscape people and parks: environmental change in the Lower Omo Valley, southwestern Ethiopia’, run by Oxford’s Professor David Anderson and Dr David Turton between 2007 and 2010.

View the illustrated booklet ‘What Future for Lake Turkana?’

Read the full report

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