Lake Turkana, largest desert lake faces extinction

UN declares largest desert lake an endangered world heritage site. [File, Standard]
The United Nations has placed Lake Turkana national parks on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The lake’s parks include Sibiloi National Park, the South Island and the Central Island national parks.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) now says that the parks need corrective action to save them from extinction.

Last month, the World Heritage Committee added Lake Turkana National Park to the list of 54 endangered sites, citing threats posed to the lake by Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam and Kuraz Sugar project.

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Gibe III dam is built on the Omo River in Ethiopia, which supplies 80 per cent of Lake Turkana’s water.

One of the world’s largest desert lakes, Turkana joined the World Heritage List in 1997.

Downgraded status

The park has over the years been a major breeding ground for migratory birds, crocodiles, hippopotamuses and venomous snakes. 

It now becomes the first heritage site in Kenya to be downgraded to the endangered status.

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“The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Manama, Bahrain, decided to inscribe the Lake on the World Heritage in Danger list, notably because of the impact of a dam on the site,” Unesco stated on its website.

The List of World Heritage in danger is designed by Unesco to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the characteristics for which a site was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.

However, if a site loses the characteristics which determined its inscription on the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee may decide to delete it from the list altogether.

During the meeting in Bahrain, the World Heritage Committee said Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam has disrupted the flow and ecosystem of Lake Turkana and significantly reduced its water levels.

The committee also noted that the country’s Kuraz Sugar Development project posed a further threat to the site.

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Unesco had opposed to the construction of the dam which was inaugurated at the end of 2016. The dam also supplies water to vast new sugar cane plantations.

“The dam’s impacts on the lake water levels are already becoming evident,” Unesco warned.

“The Committee expressed concern about the changes affecting the hydrology of the Lake Turkana Basin, notably the disruptive effect of Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam on the flow and ecosystem of LakeTurkana and the Kuraz Sugar Development Project, which poses further threat to the site,” stated Unesco.

Rejected claims

Ethiopia has, however, rejected claims that the dam would harm Lake Turkana

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Also cited were potential impacts of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project on the lake region.

Inclusion of Lake Turkana on the list of endangered world heritage sites means that emergency conservation action and international assistance to support severely threatened sites are needed.

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