Until World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms is running investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s largest fresh water lake.
By Joseph Ssemutooke
As our engine-propelled canoe sailed towards the open landing place of Lubya Island, deep into the waters of Buvuma Island district, I suddenly realised that the island we had come to was actually crowded with ram-shackled houses.
I recalled the memories of the slums I had left on the mainland back in Kampala –the disturbing vistas of Katwe, Kivulu, Namuwongo, name it.
I wondered why an island deep into Lake Victoria could be that overcrowded, the host told me that this was a problem on nearly all of Lake Victoria’s islands and mainland landing sites, where fishing is blossoming.
Later I realised that the Lubya experience was merely my introduction to the problem of overcrowding on the islands of Lake Victoria.
A problem that, according to various stakeholders (researchers, environmental organisations, among others) has escalated, almost unchecked over the years and has now become one of the biggest threats to the survival of the lake.
Population growth rates
According to the United Nations Population Fund, the Lake Victoria basin is the most heavily populated lake-basin in the world, with an estimated population of 35 million people dwelling on the lake’s shores and many islands.
Even worse, the basin has one of the world’s highest annual population growth rates (actually one of the highest three countries in Africa), estimated at about 7% and expected to at least double in the next 20 to 30 years.
The towns on the lake happen to have the biggest population on the lake, with Kampala having an estimated 2.5 million people, Kisumu and Mwanza both having about 1 million, and smaller towns like Jinja and Bukoba, having about 100,000 people each.
Rural populations are also rising causing much concern. According to United Nations Population Fund, the Lake Victoria Basin supports one of the highest and poorest rural populations anywhere on earth.
The toll of the rural populations is thought to be even harder to check than the urban populations, as the rural populations about the lake are spread over a wider area and among people, who in addition to being located in remote areas are not organised under recognisable entities.
Take the case of Kalangala islands. According to the 2002 National Population Census, there were 34,766 people in the district. But this figure had increased to more than 50,000 people in 2007.
With an estimated growth rate of 8.5% over the last few years, the population could be well over 100,000 people today.
The increase is attributed primarily to the high net rate of immigration as many people have migrated to Kalangala in search for jobs as well as the traditional high number of migrants aiming for the fisheries trade
Resources under depletion.
The Lake Victoria Research Initiative (LVRI) states that the greatest problem arising from the population explosion on the lake is the increasing and rather fast-going depletion of the lake’s resources.
Statistics by the research initiative indicate that while the rural populations living around the lake are big and fast-increasing, they are also of people whose incomes are estimated to lie within the ranges of $90-270 per capita per year.
Basing on the statistics LVRI reckons that the high incidence of poverty makes the big and fast-growing populations even more dangerous as they end up unable to use the resources in a responsible way, but rather act in desperation in a bid to survive.
Overcrowded places like slums put pressure on the natural
What local leaders say
Talking of how population pressure is depleting resources, the Buvuma district LC V Chairman Adrian Ddungu says: “When it is fishing, the big population has to fight over the already dwindled fish stocks in the lake, even depleting them further.
They use uncouth methods like seines, which kill even the young fish. Where it is agriculture, the big populations simply have to encroach on forest reserves or reclaim shores because the ideal land for farming is not enough for them.
For timber-sawing and charcoal-burning, they end up felling any tree that can avail timber/ wood.
These people are not educated, people in areas with bad service delivery, who at the end of the day are extremely desperate to find a means of livelihood.”
The Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP) points out other resulting problems such as declining water quality and industrial pollution as effects of a big population around the Lake.
Efforts to address the problem still wanting
Ibrahim Sebere, a local leader on Lubya Island, who works with the Ministry of Fisheries a proper fishing monitor in Buvuma, reckons that the efforts to address the problem of population explosion on the lake are far from the level where they can go some way in saving the lake.
Sebere decries two problems he says have caused the population explosion –the almost uncontrolled movement of people among the islands as well as the high birth rates among the island and shoreline communities as a problem that needs to be addressed urgently.
“Unless the Government comes up with a deliberate plan to check the free-growing population rise in the lake, every other effort to save the lake is not going to have any lasting impact,” Sebere says.
“They need to control movement of people onto the shores and islands, and the birth rates around have to be checked too.”
In December 2011, Pathfinder International, an NGO announced the only programme so far aiming at controlling population growth around the lake.
At a Family Planning conference in Senegal, Pathfinder International announced its Population, Health and Environment (PHE) programme, with the aim of increasing access to family planning and sexual/reproductive health services among communities on the Lake to curb biodiversity/ecosystem degradation and resource depletion.
Currently the program is finalising development of scalable approaches that can be adopted by communities, local governments, and national governments to that purpose, but even then it remains just a small entity taking on a very Herculean task.
However Pathfinder itself reckons that unless the population explosion facing the lake is checked, by the year 2050 land and water degradation on the lake will have brought it to a point where it will no longer be able to support the basin’s big population.