This photo essay, "Kara Women Speak," documents the lives of the Kara tribe living in the Omo River Valley, located in southwestern Ethiopia. The Omo River is the main vein of the Omo River watershed and extends more than 400 miles to feed 90 percent of Lake Turkana's water, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kenya. The Kara tribe, with a population between 1,000 and 3,000, are at risk of displacement due to changes in water and land management. The construction of the Gibe III hydroelectric dam, the largest of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, will affect the entire Omo River watershed, impacting more than 500,000 people in both Ethiopia and Kenya. A watershed, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is "the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place." As of early 2015, the dam is nearly complete and the impacts are already visible; its reservoir is filling in, impeding water flow to the river.
The tribes of the Omo River Valley practice "flood retreat cultivation"—using the nutrient-rich silt left along the riverbanks by the receding floodwaters. The dam will drastically alter the Omo River's flow and decrease this essential flooding. For generations, the indigenous Kara people have grown sorghum, maize, and beans and have grazed livestock on the flood plains; their culture has developed with the seasonal movements of the Omo River. Throughout the watershed, the Ethiopian government has taken ancestral farmland from other indigenous tribes through land-grab maneuvers. The government does not recognize international laws based on human rights declarations intended to protect indigenous and pastoralist communities.* The Kara tribe's land will also be leased to foreign investors, forcing them to leave without compensation. No longer self-sustaining, they will become dependent on government aid to survive.** Other projected impacts from the Gibe III dam include: widespread hunger, increased armed conflict over scarce resources, disruption of fragile ecosystems and habitats, and the possibility of increased environmental stress due to climate change.***
Over the past decade, photographer Jane Baldwin visited the region and documented the Kara women's point of view, their harmonious existence within the larger ecosystem, as well as the human rights and environmental issues that threaten their way of life. Baldwin is currently on the board of directors of International Rivers, an organization based in five continents that works to protect rivers, human rights, and fight against destructive river projects. As a photographer, Baldwin is particularly interested in giving voice to people on the verge of displacement from their ancestral land.