The development of dams and plantations in Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley, which have caused a drop in the water levels in Kenya’s Lake Turkana, is a threat to the livelihoods of some 500,000 indigenous people in Kenya and Ethiopia, the Human Rights Watch warned in a statement Tuesday.
HRW said that, based on satellite imagery received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lake Turkana’s water levels have fallen by nearly 1.5 meters since January 2015.
The alkaline lake, which is the world’s largest desert lake, is a key fishing ground for the indigenous Turkana people of northern Kenya.
The water from the Omo River is the main source for the lake whose northern end stretches into Ethiopia.
Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at the human rights group said that “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.”
Horne called on the Ethiopian government not to devastate the livelihoods of thousands of people who rely on the lake to feed their families.
“The Ethiopian government’s moves to develop its resources should not endanger the survival of indigenous people living downstream.”
HRW says that the situation has been further worsened by climate change which has caused irregular rainfall patterns and high temperatures, and the fact that the Kenyan government has done little to address the impacts from Ethiopia’s Omo Valley development.
“The Ethiopian government has shown scant regard for the lives and livelihoods of already marginalized communities who are reliant on the Omo River and Lake Turkana for their livelihoods,” Horne said.