Target: Girma Wolde Georgis, President of Ethiopia
Goal: Stop development from destroying the traditional lifestyle of tribal population
In the Lower Omo Valley, in the southeast of Ethiopia, tribes are being restricted from using the resources of the land to support themselves. The very same dams that will power irrigation systems to generate the production of lucrative crops such as sugar will end up hurting the locals’ traditional means of sustenance — fishing, farming, and raising cattle. The construction of a hydroelectric dam threatens to dry out the river zone that is essential for the survival of tribes that depend on fishing. Furthermore, the dam will stop the annual flood that the locals use to adequately water their farmlands to ensure a healthy crop production. The development won’t just endanger their crops but will also make it more difficult to raise livestock by reducing the availability of land currently used for pasturing cattle. Depriving over 200,000 inhabitants of the Lower Omo Valley of their traditional food production methods is perhaps not the intended effect of promoting the development of sugar plantations, but is devastating to the population nevertheless. Ethiopia’s forests, rivers, and pasture lands are the natural wealth that allows its tribal people to thrive, and its destruction threatens their survival.
As these tribes witness the evisceration of their ecosystem, they must also deal with a cruel government bent upon removing them from their home environments. The valley inhabitants are being forcibly resettled away from their homes and into camps to make room for the more than 700,000 new settlers expected to work on the sugar cane plantations. Many of them do not want to move as their new homes distance them from customary food sources, leaving them without a way to fish or gather fruits from mango trees. The government has pressured officials to proceed quickly with the relocation project, indirectly encouraging them to use coercive methods to force the hand of those who wanted to stay put. Locals have reported that at times they were forced to sell their cattle under the threat of seeing it butchered and that their grain stores were destroyed. At times, soldiers resorted to extreme tactics such as physical violence and rape to pressure reluctant inhabitants to resettle.
Please sign this petition to tell the Ethiopian government to respect the tribal people’s right to keep on living in the Lower Omo Valley and to continue their traditional lifestyle of farming, fishing, gathering fruits, and raising livestock. The development of sugar cane plantations and of a hydroelectric dam to power them is no excuse to destroy the local population’s life-sustaining relationship to a natural habitat whose lands, rivers, and trees have been nourishing them for generations.
Dear Girma Wolde Georgis, President of Ethiopia
It is understandable that your country wants to hasten the development of industries that hold the promise of economic growth. The profits generated by foreign investments into the hydroelectric dam and the construction of sugar plantations would make it possible to invest in modern infrastructure, healthcare, and social services.
However, nature’s own riches are too valuable to be wasted. The tribal population’s methods of supporting themselves by farming, raising cattle, and fishing are not to be sneered at. Drying out the rivers and the adjoining lands by reducing the flow of water via a dam is not a good idea as it reduces crop yields by impeding the irrigation of farmlands. The locals wouldn’t be able to catch as many fish either since dried-out rivers imperil the creatures’ natural habitat.
The tribal inhabitants of the Lower Omo Valley who have been taking advantage of the wealth of the land shouldn’t be deprived of its life-giving gifts. Therefore, we ask you to respect their ecosystem and change your development plans to preserve it. Allowing them to continue using the land as a food source also means not forcibly removing them from it. Although some of the land is allocated to sugar cane farms, a healthy share of it must be left to the tribes who should have ample space for raising crops and pasturing their cattle.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: ILRI via Flickr