2018 Photo Contest, Long-Term Projects, 2nd prize

Omo Change


Fausto Podavini

09 July, 2016

Preparations are made to construct a water pump, at a bend in the Omo River, in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Until two years ago the adjoining lands were covered in fluvial forest, but have now been cleared for cultivation that will require a high degree of irrigation.

Ethiopia is in the midst of an economic boom, with growth averaging 10.5 percent a year—double the regional average. One of the areas most impacted by this is the Omo Valley, an area of extraordinary biodiversity along the course of the Omo River, which rises in the central Shewan highlands and empties into Lake Turkana, on the border with Kenya.

Some 200,000 people of eight different ethnicities live in the Omo Valley, with another 300,000 around Lake Turkana in Kenya. Many are reliant on the river for their food security: on fish in the river and lake, and on crops and pastures grown in the fertile soil deposited by annual natural floods. Gibe III Dam—at 243 meters the tallest in Africa, and generating some 1,800 MW of hydroelectric power—was built with a dual aim: to provide energy for the booming economy and for export, and to deliver an irrigation complex for high-value agricultural development. It was also said that the dam would become a tourist attraction, of socio-economic benefit. Both Ethiopian and Kenyan governments support the dam and have disputed claims of a negative environmental impact, but critics point to such adverse effects as the cessation of natural floods, diminishing biodiversity, falling water levels in Lake Turkana, and the displacement of traditional peoples who have lived for centuries in a delicate balance with the environment.

The photographer visited the Omo Valley during the final years of the dam’s construction, with the aim of producing a meditation on how important investments can nonetheless put the human-environment balance at risk, and on how the changes brought about by the presence of such large amounts of money disrupt existing equilibrium.

About the photographer

Fausto Podavini

His passion for photography began when he was 18, first as assistant and studio photographer, then working on ethnological and social reportage. In 1992, he worked at MIFAV, the ...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Focal length
28.0 mm

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