Lake Turkana, the reputed birthplace of mankind, has been designated an endangered environmental hotspot by a UNESCO panel.
Currently designated a World Heritage Site, Kenya’s Lake Turkana stands among such treasures as the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China.
It’s the world’s largest desert lake, a spectacular site whose fossil finds have contributed more to the understanding of human ancestry than any other site in the world.
But the environmental group International Rivers warns that Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam and expansion of large, irrigated plantations in the Lower Omo basin threaten food security and local economies that support more than half a million people in southwest Ethiopia and along the shores of Kenya’s Lake Turkana.
“Construction on the dam began in 2006 with flagrant violations of Ethiopia’s own laws on environmental protection and procurement practices, and the national constitution,” the Oakland, California-based group wrote. “The project’s US$1.7 billion contract was awarded without competition to Italian construction giant Salini, raising serious questions about the project’s integrity.”
In February 2015, the filling of the dam’s reservoir began. The same year in October, Gibe III began generating electricity.
The Rivers group continued: “Project impact assessments were published long after construction began and disregard the project’s most serious consequences. Despite the huge impacts on vulnerable people and ecosystems, NGOs and academics in Ethiopia familiar with the region and the project don’t dare speak out for fear they will be shut down by the government.”
The Committee mentioned other changes affecting the hydrology of the Lake Turkana Basin, namely the Kuraz Sugar Development Project, and the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSETT) Corridor Project.
The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions threatening the very characteristics for which a property has been inscribed on the World Heritage List and to encourage corrective measures.
The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee continues until July 4.