Situation Analysis Summary: Equity implications of developments in the Omo-Turkana Basin

A summary of the equity implications of developments and environmental change in the Omo-Turkana Basin, from the Ambio situation analysis.

The principal beneficiary of the ecosystem change is the Government of Ethiopia (GoE). Power generation from Gibe III began in September 2016, with 6 of the 10 turbines operational and generating at 800 MW. There are profits to be made from sales of electricity from the Gibe III to the Government of Kenya and domestic customers, from land leases to private investors, and from the sales of sugarcane products. These benefits will be passed onto both commercial and residential electricity consumers. However, the GoE may end up bearing significant costs. Both Gibe III and the Kuraz sugar development are behind schedule, and land suitability and the quality of soil are likely to be major limiting factors for irrigated cultivation of sugarcane and other cash crops. In 2015, the ESC considerably down-scaled the KSDP to 100 000 ha serving four factories (as opposed to 175 000 ha and five factories originally envisaged). Further, affected people in the Lower Omo require food aid, which must be delivered by either domestic or international agencies under the GoE’s remit.

The Government of Kenya (GoK) is thus far in an equivocal position. The commencement of power generation through Gibe III will potentially benefit Kenyans with grid access. However, ecological impacts on Lake Turkana also represent a substantial cost to the Kenyan economy. In recent years, less than 10% of the estimated potential of between 30 000 and 90 000 KT of annual fish production has been exploited. The collapse of the fisheries would effectively rule out any future development of these resources and would require the GoK to provide food aid to increasingly large food insecure populations in the region. Exploitation of oil and wind resources in Turkana may offset these losses, but to date, a minority of Kenyans have monopolized the benefits of these developments. This is discussed further below.

To recapitulate, the clearest ‘winners’ at this stage are labor migrants, and the clearest ‘losers’ indigenous peoples. The other major actors—agro-industry investors, and the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya—are in an equivocal position, with potential for large gains, but also exposure to substantial risks. Important SES-wide impacts will result from changes in regulating, provisioning, and cultural ecosystems services, including potential environmental degradation; loss of biological and cultural diversity; heightened competition and conflict over natural resources; and the potential for increased dependence on food aid. There are, however, some ways of mitigating the costs of the Basin developments.

 Figure 5

For further details, please see the OTuRN situation analysis, “Social-ecological change in the Omo-Turkana basin: A synthesis of current developments” and “The Kuraz Sugar Development Project (KSDP) in Ethiopia: Between “sweet visions” and mounting challenges.”

Benedikt Kamski is a Research Fellow at Arnold Bergstraesser Institute (ABI). His research interests include hydro-politics and the political-economy of large-scale agricultural development schemes.

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