By Luke Carothers

In Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, the way of life for indigenous tribes like the Kara, Mursi, Hamer, and Nyangatom has survived for thousands of years.  These groups have built their lifestyles around seasonal flooding, which comes from the Omo River.  Until recently, these tribes relied on these regular annual floods for food, water, and cultural traditions.  However, new infrastructure is threatening the way of life for the tribes of the Omo River Valley.

In recent years, a number of large, hydroelectric dams have been built on the Omo River in the northern regions of Ethiopia.  In a bid to modernize the electrical capacity and infrastructure of an economically expanding country, Ethiopian officials approved plans to build a dam at the cost of nearly $1.6 billion USD called GIBE III.  While GIBE III nearly doubled Ethiopia’s electrical output, the dam has put the traditional lifestyles and very lives of the southern indigenous groups at risk.

Cut off from their traditional relationship with the river, the tribes of the Omo Valley experienced not only famine and drought in the last

three years, but also the loss of their young people. Without sustenance and needing to find ways to support themselves and their families, many young people are leaving their traditional homes in search of work and food. According to tribal elders, the resulting loss of culture and identity has been devastating. To compound these issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has cut off yet another economic lifeline for these communities: eco-tourism.

In an effort to fix these issues, the Kara Tribe has partnered with Miya-moto Global Disaster Relief and ecotourism group Wild Philanthropy to develop solutions. In January 2020, a team of experts for Miyamoto Relief visited the area, met with tribal leaders, and worked together to develop a sustainable solution for the area. The original plan was to use a small scale solar powered system to irrigate a 7-acre plot of land.

The success of this pilot project proved that the solution was viable and could be scaled up to a larger size. After assessing the small-scale transformation, the team immediately made adjustments for expansion. The current plan is to support a 50+ acre community farm along the banks of the Omo River using this tested solar powered irrigation solution.

In order to irrigate the community farm, a floating submersible water pump will draw water from the river to fill the irrigation channels. For this system to function properly, engineers must first level the land, establish irrigation channels, ensure proper installation of the solar water pump, and provide training on proper system use. Such a system will allow the tribes in the region to return to planting their traditional crops such as sorghum.

While there is a high capital cost associated with installing a solar pump irrigation system, the operating costs are nearly zero. This makes it an ideal solution for the tribes in the area. The team at Miyamoto Relief is currently seeking donations for the project. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please click here.

About Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief

Miyamoto Relief applies global engineering expertise to return hope to, and sustain life in, at-risk communities around the world that have been affected by all types of disasters. It implements programs that empower community-led solutions that are resilient, climate-smart, and sustainable.


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.

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