Monday, November 1, 2010

Omo-Turkana climate crisis

When The Water Ends: Africa's Climate Conflicts
(article and 16 min video)
Yale Environment 360
October 27, 2010

For thousands of years, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh,
semi-arid lowlands that stretch across 80 percent of Kenya and 60
percent of Ethiopia. Descendants of the oldest tribal societies in the
world, they survive thanks to the animals they raise and the crops they
grow, their travels determined by the search for water and grazing lands.

These herdsmen have long been accustomed to adapting to a changing
environment. But in recent years, they have faced challenges unlike any
in living memory: As temperatures in the region have risen and water
supplies have dwindled, the pastoralists have had to range more widely
in search of suitable water and land. That search has brought tribal
groups in Ethiopia and Kenya in increasing conflict, as pastoral
communities kill each other over water and grass.

"When the Water Ends," a 16-minute video produced by Yale Environment
360 in collaboration with MediaStorm, tells the story of this conflict
and of the increasingly dire drought conditions facing parts of East
Africa. To report this video, Evan Abramson, a 32-year-old photographer
and videographer, spent two months in the region early this year, living
among the herding communities. He returned with a tale that many climate
scientists say will be increasingly common in the 21st century and
beyond — how worsening drought in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and
elsewhere will pit group against group, nation against nation. As one UN
official told Abramson, the clashes between Kenyan and Ethiopian
pastoralists represent "some of the world's first climate-change conflicts."

But the story recounted in "When the Water Ends" is not only about
climate change. It's also about how deforestation and land degradation —
due in large part to population pressures — are exacting a toll on
impoverished farmers and nomads as the earth grows ever more barren.

The video focuses on four groups of pastoralists — the Turkana of Kenya
and the Dassanech, Nyangatom, and Mursi of Ethiopia — who are among the
more than two dozen tribes whose lives and culture depend on the waters
of the Omo River and the body of water into which it flows, Lake
Turkana. For the past 40 years at least, Lake Turkana has steadily
shrunk because of increased evaporation from higher temperatures and a
steady reduction in the flow of the Omo due to less rainfall, increased
diversion of water for irrigation, and upstream dam projects. As the
lake has diminished, it has disappeared altogether from Ethiopian
territory and retreated south into Kenya. The Dassanech people have
followed the water, and in doing so have come into direct conflict with
the Turkana of Kenya.

The result has been cross-border raids in which members of both groups
kill each other, raid livestock, and torch huts. Many people in both
tribes have been left without their traditional livelihoods and survive
thanks to food aid from nonprofit organizations and the UN.

The future for the tribes of the Omo-Turkana basin looks bleak.
Temperatures in the region have risen by about 2 degrees F since 1960.
Droughts are occurring with a frequency and intensity not seen in recent
memory. Areas once prone to drought every ten or eleven years are now
experiencing a drought every two or three. Scientists say temperatures
could well rise an additional 2 to 5 degrees F by 2060, which will
almost certainly lead to even drier conditions in large parts of East

In addition, the Ethiopian government is building a dam on the upper Omo
River — the largest hydropower project in sub-Saharan Africa — that will
hold back water and prevent the river's annual flood cycles, upon which
more than 500,000 tribesmen in Ethiopia and 300,000 in Kenya depend for
cultivation, grazing, and fishing.

The herdsmen who speak in this video are caught up in forces over which
they have no real control. Although they have done almost nothing to
generate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, they
may already be among its first casualties. "I am really beaten by
hunger," says one elderly, rail-thin Nyangatom tribesman. "There is
famine — people are dying here. This happened since the Turkana and the
Kenyans started fighting with us. We fight over grazing lands. There is
no peace at all."

Watch the video

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