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Dam on Ethiopia’s Omo River Causing Hunger and Conflict

December 2, 2015
National Geographic

Sandra Postel

In the lower Omo River Valley of southern Ethiopia, a spreading humanitarian emergency that threatens to spawn conflicts in the region is largely being met with silence from both the Ethiopian government and the international community.

The filling of the reservoir behind Gibe III Dam on the Omo River is holding back the flows needed by some 200,000 indigenous people in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya to sustain their food production and livelihoods.

“People are starving and dying,” according to a trusted source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from speaking out. “They need international support.”

The indigenous communities of the Omo Valley, including those of the Bodi, Hamer, Karo, Kwegu, and Mursi tribes, rely on the natural flood cycles of the Omo River for their sustainable practices of flood-recession farming, fishing and livestock grazing. Like generations of their forebears, they plant sorghum, maize and beans in the riverside soils after the yearly flood, relying on the moisture and nutrient-rich sediment the Omo deposits each year.