Lake Turkana Basin Expedition in Omo River Basin (Jan. 2013)
NWNL Team: Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director
Bonnie Muench, NWNL photographer
LAKE TURKANA BASIN: Kenya’s Lake Turkana is the terminus of Ethiopia’s Omo River, which supplies 90% of the lake’s volume. L. Turkana (180 miles long and up to 30 miles wide) is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and largest alkaline lake. At 1,200 feet elevation, the lake is a closed (endorheic) basin, with high evaporation rates of 2.3–2.8 m/yr. Its high salinity ranges from 1.7–2.7%, due to no outlet, lower volume in the last 7,500 years, and recent volcanic activity.
The Omo River and L. Turkana are lifelines to indigenous Ethiopians and Kenyans. Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 hydro-dam, now in construction, will greatly decrease the Omo’s flow into L. Turkana. The Lower Omo Basin supports 200,000 indigenous agro-pastoralists. The Turkana Basin is home to 300 to 500 thousand people who depend on lake water for sustenance.
Also known as the Jade Sea and formerly Lake Rudolf, this region is known as the Cradle of Mankind. Koobi Fora, site of the Leakeys’ famous hominid excavations, is on its shore. Nearby, a petrified forest in Sibiloi National Park reveals that 7 million years ago this area was lush, dense forest. Today, fish migrate up the Omo River to spawn during seasonal floods. Nile crocodiles breed in the lake. Scorpions and carpet vipers inhabit its rocky shores. Hundred of thousands of migratory and water birds are here. Lake Turkana’s three National Parks are a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, the Lake Turkana Basin is currently facing ecosystem and community degradation from many sources, including:
Climate change, which causes evaporation of lake waters
Hydrodams and upstream irrigation, which lowers lake water levels
Lower water levels, which raise salinity affecting fisheries and water potability
Invasive species and increased sedimentation, which reduce biodiversity and species populations
Upstream pollutants (human/livestock effluent, agricultural runoff), which impact human health
Erosion on the Omo causing heavy sediment loads, which lowers water quality for fish and people
Natural resource extraction (of oil, gas, wind, aquatic species), which alter the ecosystem
Transboundary and local conflicts/migration, which arise over access to water and wells
EXPEDITION METHODOLOGY: This expedition, using NWNL scientific research, will create still and video documentation of lake water levels, dependence of pastoralist communities on the lake water and its quality, and the fish population. NWNL will interview stakeholders and stewards involved in conservation of the lake ecosystem and its indigenous tribal communities. Following the expedition, resulting materials will be publicized, shared with other watershed stewards and used as educational tools. Products from all NWNL expeditions are disseminated via print and online media, exhibits and lectures. Expedition results are shared with other NWNL watersheds as a reference for global solutions.
Three prior Omo River Basin expeditions by NWNL occurred in September 2005, September 2007 and January 2009.
EXPEDITION FOCUS: NWNL will seek solutions to impacts of:
Water level changes - on pastoralists’ need for water
Water availability/quality - on health and food security
Water-related health issues - on local economy
Reduced fish stocks - on nutritional needs and migration
EXPEDITION ENDORSEMENTS: NWNL thanks those who endorsed its Omo River expeditions, The Explorers Club and all other funders. NWNL also thanks The International League of Conservation Photographers and Wings World Quest, the NWNL fiscal sponsor, for their support of No Water No Life since 2007.