nown as the ‘desert lake’, Lake Beseka sits nestled near Metehara town, 200 kilometers east of Addis Ababa. The Ethiopia-Djibouti trade route winds its way past the strange, shimmering waters.
Born of volcanic eruptions in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Beseka is as mysterious as it is beguiling. Its water is an inky black, acidic and volatile – appearing and disappearing at will. Though only eight meters deep, the lake’s size is a constant enigma, expanding and contracting without warning.
Yet something remarkable is unfolding around Lake Beseka. When The Reporter visited a decade ago, the lake was inhospitable – barely able to sustain life. Locals never used the water except to wash clothes. There were even proposals to establish a soap factory due to the water’s cleansing properties. But due to its chemical nature, the water was liquefying the surrounding soil, steadily engulfing landmasses – including leveling down the nearby Fantale Mountain.
The lake showed no mercy for investors. Years ago, a foreign company built a lavish lakeside resort near Lake Beseka with a health clinic, school, staff housing and other amenities. Soon after, the entire development was swallowed up as the swelling lake pushed soil and water to the surface, engulfing the resort. The once bustling complex was abandoned, reduced to ruins only accessible by boat.
Recent visits indicated signs of change, suggesting the lake may be transforming from a desolate dead end into an environment teeming with new life.
Stark differences were observed showing the lake turning the surroundings alive, instead of the abandoned, empty lake from years past.
The once-black and poisonous lake is now turning clean. Locals notice the change as fish abundantly reproduce in the water. Where once only crocodiles lived, swimming is now thinkable as the lake thrives anew.
Tullu Nigussie, is born and raised in Metehara town near Beseka – a town known for fruits and sugarcane. The town also serves as a rest stop for Djibouti-bound trucks. Tullu graduated in architecture from Arba Minch University in 2015, dreaming of cleansing the lake and opening a business. But part of the lake near Metehara had become a dumpsite.
Last year, Tullu formed an enterprise with six friends. “We had to remove tons of trash from the lake. The toxicity nearly killed us,” he says.
But they finally cleaned the water and started fish farms. Tullu now ships up to 100 kg fish weekly to Addis Ababa restaurants. He employs 15 people. Several others now operate near the lake. Tullu’s team finalized a 50 million birr hotel and lodge feasibility study. “We’re raising funds,” he says.
After the cleaning and revival, several restaurants, cafes and attractions flourish around Beseka.
Fish egg dishes and toasted fish are popular recipes served in the area.
Wasihun Asefa, a heavy truck driver between Ethiopia and Djibouti for years, said the lake used to be barren. “The chemical pollution made it toxic, and crocodiles scared people away.” He said they would “just pass by, never stopping” because “the black water frightened us.”
But now everything has changed. “The water is normal, ideal for fish. I now eat delicious fish meals… I buy fresh fish for my family – it’s a miracle!” he says.
Many Metehara residents now “spend days at the lake. Swimming and open-air fish restaurants have injected new life.” Residents now “fetch water in yellow jerry cans – showing the lake is truly healed.”
Sable Worku, a Metehara resident, said she avoided the lake for 15 years. It “seemed dangerous, not a source of life or entertainment.” But now she spends weekends there with her family.
Studies don’t explain how the lake regained natural status. But clearly, “the black water is gone, replaced by normal volume and permanent water – above all, clean water.”
Investors now eye the lake, with expensive hotels and lodges planned.
Tulu believes the revitalized lake could transform urbanization, recreation and the economy in the area. He says, “The town will inevitably expand toward the lake. Several hotels, lodges and entertainment centers will circle the water. This will make Metehara one of the most promising and fast-growing towns, given its position on trade routes.”
But he warns much work remains to sustain the lake’s revival: “Otherwise investments here cannot last. The rift valley made this area volatile. We must care for the lake,” Tulu stresses.
The entrepreneur envisions how “Lake Beseka’s importance could boost the growth of Metehara town, if managed well.” But much investment and effort are needed “to keep the lake clean and normal.”
Tulu cautions: “The underlying rift makes this area unstable. So we must be careful with the lake” to ensure any development here can endure. If properly stewarded, the lake could power Metehara’s ascent – but that hinges on sustained protection of its fragile ecosystem.