HOLDING ONTO WATER: One Man’s Struggle to Save his Tribe from Extinction
Click image below to see a short video of this project:
Lepalo Gideon Lion is a member of the El Molo tribe, that has traditionally lived on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, in Kenya’s arid northern region, for centuries. While other tribes in the area are primarily nomadic pastoralists with herds of livestock, the El Molo carved out a niche for themselves as fishermen. The lake is their only means of survival as they do not plant crops and maintain only very small herds of cattle and goats.
In recent years, people from other areas, such as Uganda and southern Kenya, have flocked to Lake Turkana to take advantange of the fishing opportunities – which have become a viable industry for some. For the El Molo, however, this competition seriously stresses their available source of food. In addition, the Kenya government has banned the hunting of crocodile and hippos – a positive move in terms of wildlife preservation, but a death knell for the El Molo.
In the past few years, a new threat has emerged. The Ethiopian government has built several dams across some of the Nile tributaries in order to generate hydroelectric energy for Ethiopia and surround nations, such as Kenya. The Gibe III dam has been built across the River Omo, which is the main source of water flowing into Lake Turkana. When the dam opens in 2017, that waterflow will be seriously reduced. Because of global warming and other environmental factors, the waters of the lake are already receding. Once the waterflow from the Omo River either stops or is much reduced, the lake will be unable to support the many creatures that depend on it – such as birds, fish, crocodiles and hippos – as well the people and their livestock who dwell around it. The El Molo’s survival is particularly threatened, as they have not developed alternative means of obtaining food and potable water.
The Kenya government has chosen to ignore abundant locally available natural resources, such as solar and wind energy, which could be easily harnessed in the Turkana region and used to fuel Kenya’s entire energy needs. instead, they choose to purchase hydroelectric power from Ethiopia at enormous cost to the environment and its people and wildlife.
Lepalo is a young activist who has fought for years to ensure the survival of his people, the El Molo. My documentary film, HOLDING ONTO WATER, will document the current situation for the El Molo of Lake Turkana, and will look at some possible solutions that would enable the El Molo to maintain their traditional life – a life that is well adapted to their harsh environment.
My film will raise some vital questions:
Is it a given that indigenous people, like the El Molo, must simply become “collateral damage” in the advance of “progress”?
- Is it a given that one must build dams in the 21 century to generate electric power, when wind and solar power are viable alternatives?
- This is not the first time the building of a dam has destroyed an entire people as well as their environmental niche. Have we learned any lessons at all from the past?