Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Lake Alemaya

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Lake Alemaya in the Ethiopian Highlands has historically provided the surrounding area with water for domestic use, irrigation, and livestock and has served as a local fishery. As recently as the mid-1980s its maximum depth was around eight metres and it covered 4.72 km2. Since then Alemaya's water level and surface area have declined considerably, as is evident in these images. In recent years, low water levels have interrupted the water supply in Harar, a nearby town of over 100 000.

Increasing irrigation and domestic water use change in the local climate, and changes in the surrounding land cover are believed to be the causes of Alemaya's demise. Agriculture expanded dramatically starting in the mid-1970s due to improved infrastructure, increased population, and changes in government policies toward production and marketing. Among the crops grown is khat, a psychoactive leaf consumed heavily in northeastern Africa. Khat has become an exported cash crop in recent decades and irrigation has increased as a result. In addition, siltation caused by the deforestation of the Alemaya watershed has reduced the capacity of the shallow lake. A trend of warmer temperatures since the mid-1980s may also have increased the rate of evaporation from the lake.
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