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For more than a decade, Ikal Angelei has been fighting for the survival of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert Lake. In 2012, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize, often referred to as the noble peace prize for the environment.
She blames dwindling fish stocks on Gibe-3, a giant hydro-electric dam, built by Ethiopia on River Omo which feeds the lake. The 38-year-old, who grew up on the shores of Lake Turkana, says the impact of the dam and climate change have been huge.
“At one point you have the lake totally receding and no fish. And at one point you have a flooding of the Lake which means villagers who reside near the Lake have to move”. In Turkana, communal clashes have broken out over access to scarce water supplies. Angelei fears more violence, should the lake drop further “The fish are reducing, people start to fight for it and it leads to people going fishing in protected areas, into breeding zones and creates a lot of conflict.”
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture showed the lake’s water level dropped to 363 meters in 2016, when Gibe 3 opened, from 365 meters.
Unseasonably heavy rains mean levels are back up, but the fishing community fear that is only temporary.
Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the Lake and the River Omo. Lalukol’s family has fished here for as long as he can remember. The shrinking lake and growing local population have made it difficult to eke out a living. He fears there will be no fish left for his grandchildren. “There used to be a lot of Nile perch, but very few fishing boats.” He says boats must sail much deeper into the lake to get a good catch. The fish are also shrinking in size. “You would get a Nile perch the size of a human being and now you are not seeing that size of Nile perch,” Angelei explained.
Officials at Ethiopia’s ministry of water, irrigation and energy did not respond immediately to a Reuters request for comment. In 2018, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee, UNESCO, added Lake Turkana to the list of endangered World Heritage Sites. Its islands are breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and several snake species. The lake is also important to migratory birds. Angelei said both Kenya and Ethiopia need to share resources to make sure poor communities aren’t left behind.
“The local community has to be involved in this whole process both for conservation and economic value,” she said.