Somali news site Mareeg reports March 23 that Ethiopia has for the first time actually halted the flow of water into Somalia by closing the gates on irrigation dams along the Shabelle River. The river, which flows from the Ethiopian highlands, now no longer reaches Somali territory, where banana plantations (one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange) have long depended on it. A photo with the report shows vehicles driving through the completely dry river bed. It also claims that impoundments on Ethiopia's Genale River have significantly reduced water levels in Somalia's Jubba River, into which it flows. Mareeg accuses Ethiopia of "taking advantage of its hydro-hegemony" at the expense of Somalia.
A report on Somalia's Shabelle Media Network (posted on AllAfrica) actually quotes the governor of Ethiopia's Somali state (see map), Abdi Mohamud Omar Iley, saying: "We are storing Shabelle river water flow behind the walls for a dam purpose and irrigation of our own farming fields in Somali region of Ethiopia."
The Shabelle River actually forms a corridor of government control in a part of Somalia otherwise controlled by the Shabaab insurgents, as a comparison of a map of the river basins and a BBC map of the zones of control reveals. Ethiopian and Kenyan intervention forces in Somalia are still waging a counter-insurgency war against the Shabaab. Fighting last week between Kenyan forces and insurgents left many dead, Reuters reported Mach 20. Cutting off the water to one of the few areas of the aridifying country that can still sustain intensive agriculture is not exactly a recipe for stability.
What is the Ethiopian regime thinking? Was this just the capricious decision of a local administrator in Somali state who will soon be taken into hand by the central government? We hope so. Meanwhile, it is pretty amazing that an entire river can be shut down in a country considered to be a global terrorist threat, and it wins no media coverage whatsoever outside of local outlets.