Omo valley is located about 900 km on rough and dusty roads from the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa and also it is more than 1000 km from Nairobi in Kenya – the nearest two capitals in Africa, making it one of the remotest areas in East Africa.
In Omo valley tribes live very traditional and authentically and its is common to see the people here attributes themselves with an amazing array of ornamentation, beauty scars, lip plates, ear plugs, enormous headdresses of ropes and iron with tuskers from warthogs or even hippoes. The people in Omo valley can be divided into tribes like Arbore, Ari, Mursi, Bena, Bumi, Daasanech, Dorze, Hamer/Hamar, Karo, Kwegu, Konso, Tsemay and Turkana- most of them living as if modern civilisation never had occurred. Omo valley lies just north of the mighty Lake Turkana – its main tributary being the Omo river going through Omo valley. At Omorate Omo river is wide and deep – a mighthy river that takes dug out or good swimmers to cross but when it 50 km further south reaches Lake Turkana a river delta forms.
The journey to Omo valley from Addis Ababa most often goes through Arba Minch and then most often to Jinka then further on through Mago National Park to you finally reach the only small town in Lower Omo Valley called Turmi. From Turmi there are many possibilities for exploring this amazing place on earth where humans still live a natural lifestyle as we all did in the past.
The track from Jinka
The authentic and “untouched” feeling of the Lower Omo valley and its amazing tribal people is not something that can be sure to prevail. The government of Ethiopia is building Gibe III hydroelectric dam on the Omo river in order to generate electricity to the rest of the country and its more than 80 million inhabitants.
The Gibe dam will regulate river flows to support year-round commercial agriculture, hence having huge impact downstream as the natural flow of the river forcing people to relocate and their livestock to find new pastures. Most significantly, the changes in river flow caused by the dam and associated irrigated plantations could cause a huge drop in the water levels of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake and another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Lake Turkana receives 90% of its water from the Omo River and is projected to drop by about two meters during the initial filling of the dam, which is estimated to begin around May 2014. If current plans to create new plantations continue to move forward, the lake could drop as much as 16 to 22 meters. The average depth of the lake is just 31 meters.
Also the Ethiopian government is building paved roads into the region to support the growing cotton industry in Omo valley – bringing big trucks and much more people into the valley too. The road will bring more infrastructure to the Omo Valley – better medical and educational facilities, trading and many associated benefits – but, of course, it will mean that some of the tribal culture will be lost. Which would be a good reason to visit Omo Valley as soon as possible.
The track from Jinka in the east to the edge of the Omo River is only accessible in the dry season (August?February). Another track, from Maji to the Omo National Park on the west, is almost impassable and is mostly used only by Omo National Park vehicles and a few other adventurous visiting groups. The new road fundamentally changes the living conditions for the tribal people living in Omo valley challenging their unique traditional way of living.