Monthly Archives: April 2011

Evan Abramson


When the Water Ends

Throughout the vast, semi-arid lowlands that stretch across Kenya and Ethiopia, nomadic herdsmen have proudly walked the harsh, scorched earth for thousands of years. Their lives are the result of constant adaptation to a perpetually challenging environment. Their survival depends upon the animals they keep, and guiding cattle to natural water points and grazing grounds determines the paths they cross each year.

But climate change is coming fast, and areas once subject to drought every ten or eleven years are now experiencing it every two or three. This is exacerbating inter-tribal tensions as fighting over water and pasture increases, creating “some of the world’s first climate change conflicts,” according to Jeanine Cooper, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nairobi.

Now, in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley more than two dozen tribes are at risk of extinction, as the government pushes ahead with construction of the Gibe III dam. Promising to be the largest hydropower project in sub-Saharan Africa, if completed, the dam will prevent the annual flood cycles of the Omo River, which sustain the lives of more than 800,000 indigenous herders, farmers and fishermen in Ethiopia and Kenya.

War among the tribes is imminent if the floods are stopped. Guns are already flowing in from Somalia and south Sudan, and nearly every tribesman carries a Kalashnikov or M-16 to protect his animals and family. As the death tolls rise, tens of thousands of pastoralists are being displaced, increasing starvation and dependency upon international aid.

Experts agree that conflict related to resource scarcity will happen by the middle of this century. In East Africa it’s happening now.











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