Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake by surface area in the world, it harbours immense natural resources including fisheries, forests, wetlands and is a major source of livelihoods to more than forty million people around it in three countries (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) and home to about 400 species of fish and a major source of livelihoods of more than forty million people around it in the three countries.
With a rising population around the lake, new hurdles have emerged and required urgent intervention by policymakers, conservationists and other stakeholders to rescue this wonderful lake.
Polluted water mostly from industrial discharge, car repair garages, workshops, markets, domestic waste, agrochemicals from flower export farms around the lake that use a lot of chemicals (flower exporting farms are located around the lake in the three countries that share L.Victoria) and other pollutants continue to end up in the lake, resulting into massive pollution and silting.
Human activities on the shores of the lake continue to impact on the ecosystem through intense agricultural activities such as cultivation, livestock farming and overfishing, the consequence has been deforestation, loss of animal and plant life and other aquatic life, coupled with the above, is the problem of water hyacinth that continues to choke the lake in addition to large volumes of algae that have formed mainly on the lake shores that look like a green paint on the lake surface and have a sickening stench.
Lake sand mining along the shores in the districts of Kalungu (Lwera), Mpigi and Wakiso has gained prominence as a lucrative economic activity but is one of the ecological cancers that are likely to fuel community conflicts and may lead to increased costs in the Local construction industry because of unregulated exploitation and export of sand (yes sand is exported)
Encroachment seems to be taking a new twist, sporadic ghetto-like settlements, urbanization, industrial establishments and leisure man-made beaches are a common sight around the lake shores in all the three countries that share lake Victoria and these continue to cause significant degradation, pollution, deterioration of water quality and clean air.
Recent research by the University of Southern Texas and Makerere University in addition to several other reports indicate that the lake has been significantly degraded by pollution and encroachment and that if the trend is not checked, the repercussions may be disastrous.
Information from various researchers also indicates that we are already experiencing the impact of degradation in different ways for example,
- Water levels continue to rise while submerging prominent Hotels, beaches and some of the upscale suburbs of Munyonyo, Gaba and Entebbe areas, the Floating islands are proving to be a threat to power generation at Owen falls dam, downstream, around Lakes Kyonga and Albert the damage caused by floods is almost the same because of the released waters from the Lake Victoria through the Owen falls dam, these floods are partly because of the destruction of wetlands which used to Act like a sponge, they would hold water for long, filter it, and release it slowly into the Lake in a more purified form.
- Water for human consumption needs to be heavily treated with chemicals to become fit for human consumption, and this may not only have side effects on the human health but also puts a lot of budgetary implications on our national resources.
- Export Earnings from fish keep declining year after year, the fishermen work harder and catch less, women at landing sites have lost incomes from smoking, drying and frying fish, incomes for the local communities as well as employment have also dwindled.
- Loss of tourism as the several beaches are being swept away and beach sporting activities postponed, ozone layer depletion, global warming are some of the threats that can’t be ignored.
- These are some of the indicators of a looming crisis if the situation is not addressed, there is an urgent need for policymakers, conservationists and other stakeholders to rescue this wonderful lake, to reverse the likely effects on humanity by restoring wetlands, as these wetlands play an important role as watershed areas and breeding grounds for fish and also important for filtering the city waste before it flows into lake Victoria.
- There is need to strengthen urban planning services around the lake that consider the increasing population and environmental issues, and that ensure new settlement developments have proper sanitation plus other essential services in addition to strict enforcement of rules on waste disposal and treatment.
- As the spectre of a humanitarian and economic crisis looms larger around the lake because of increasing water levels that continue to erode shorelines, displacing settlements, causing flooding and economic damage, there is need to enforce environmental protection laws around the lake not only to protect encroachment and pollutants entering the lake but also protection of other water catchment areas that will help control silting of the lake and that can retain the water volumes that are otherwise pouring into the lake and are partly responsible for the increasing water levels.
- Whereas it’s every body’s responsibility to maintain a healthy environment, the National Environment Authority (NEMA), Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and other responsible agencies must intensify sensitization and enforcement to save lives and property from the swelling waters of Lake Victoria, otherwise, when strict enforcement is left to the lake itself to chase away the encroachers, there is a risk of economic and Humanitarian crisis around the lake.
Let’s save Lake Victoria.
The writer is a concerned citizen