Life, richness and displacement around the Omo River, Ethiopia

The Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region is one of the nine kililoch of Ethiopia, bordering Kenya, the Ilemi Triangle, South Sudan and the Ethiopian regions of Gambela and Oromia. This region is the homeland of many ethnicities and indigenous ethnic groups.  It is one of the main rural regions in Ethiopia (90% of rural inhabitants), producing around 45% of the Ethiopian coffee and 20% of the country’s cattle. One of the main rivers in Ethiopia, the Omo River, comes from Oromia crossing the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region and finishing in the Lake Turkana, within the Kenyan border.

Due to this powerful river and to the rural asset of the region, this is one of the most wanted areas for the exploration of new farming industries or to the expansion of the existing ones. Therefore, it is not surprising to find out that the Ethiopian government is leasing out some lands surrounding the Omo River to foreign companies (some associations refer the presence of Malaysian, Italian and Korean business). But this leasing has a price.

Firstly, the water resource: it needs to be better conserved and distributed so that it can reach the different production locations. The solution is passing through the construction of a large dam, the Gibe III, for water control and electricity generation. This construction has been object of much controversy, namely in what regards to the evaluation of its environmental and social impacts and to the lack of transparency of this process. Actually, it is estimated that most of the people relying on the Omo River (for subsistence agriculture/cattle) below the Gibe dam shall have a worsen situation in what regards to chronic hunger and the decrease in water levels. More water shall be distributed, but mainly in the direction of sugarcane and cotton state-owned plantations financed mainly with the aid of Indian companies.

Secondly, the need for space: the production demand requires human displacement, both due to the dam construction as to the companies’ location. Besides being deprived from the annual natural flood along the Omo valley, the indigenous tribes are being officially invited to resettle and, when refusing, some of their elements are being put into jail or even being tortured and killed. Some of the most affected tribes are the Bodi, the Mursi and the Suri. The most recent news report that the Suri are being subject of resettlement due to gold mining projects; in response to this tribe’s resistance, in the last months of 2012 the Ethiopian authorities might have surrounded the village of Beyahola, killing 147 of its 154 members.

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