By Watuwa Timbiti
In the second year of our campaign to save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will until World Environment Day on June 5, run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
Today we look at the conditions that led to the deaths of many lakes which fate could befall Lake Victoria Yes, it is not fiction. Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake can actually die due to overpollution. Indeed this lake, which currently covers an area of 68,000 square kilometres can also dry up if the current harmful human activities in its catchment area are not curbed.
Due to a combination of factors such as shallowness, limited river inflow, and large surface area relative to its volume, the lake is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Samples picked from the bottom of the lake indicate that Victoria has dried up completely three times since it formed. The lake is reported to have dried up 17,300 years ago and filled again 14,700 years ago.
The possibility of a dried up Lake Victoria is therefore, real with not only devastating effect on aquatic life, but also on the over 30 million people that derive their livelihoods from this lake directly or indirectly. “The lake supports directly more 30 million people in East Africa. Globally it is the source of tilapia and the Nile Perch. So important is the lake that Egypt and Sudan entered the Nile treaty for exclusive use of its water,” observes Joseph Awange in Lake Victoria: Ecology, Resources and Environment. Awange, an environmental scientist, adds that just as oil is an important resource of the world, Lake Victoria and its environs play a major role in the world. Awange’s assertions on the centrality of the lake in the sustenance of the livelihoods of the East African people both directly and indirectly find corroborative validity in the words of Tom Okurut, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) executive director.
“Today Lake Vitoria, the world’s second largest fresh water lake stands as the most critical economic resource that links the three riparian countries namely: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as Rwanda and Burundi, which form part of its drainage basin,” acknowledges Okurut in Lake Victoria Basin: A New Frontier for Development of East Africa. Unbelievably, the lake, which according to Okurut is the single most treasured shared natural resource in the East African Region, is under the threat of drying up considering the variant water levels, researchers state.
For instance, according to Dr. Peter Saundry in a July 7, 2010 article published in the online Encyclopedia of Earth, much as the lake, also known as Nalubaale, is fed by small streams and rivers, notably River Kagera, which bring water from its basin and 85% of the water from rain, it loses a substantial amount of water.
Evaporation accounts for 85% of the water loss on the lake and only 15% is lost as a result of outflow through the Victoria Nile. So, as less and less rainfall is received to replenish the lake and as runoff waters deposit silt into the lake due to destruction of the forest cover and wetlands, Lake Victoria will become shallower and dry up sooner than later.
In his article in Mother Nature Network (MMN), an environmental and social responsibility online network majorly focusing on environmental news, environmentalist Shea Gunther states that the key cause of water dryups in the world water bodies stems from population explosion, thus high water consumption to sustain lives. “We use water to drink, prepare food, produce electricity, manufacture products and extract raw minerals from the earth,” he writes, warning: “When we use more water than is naturally put back into the system, we draw down the overall supply.” That simple equation, he concludes, is the brutal reality explaining why some lakes have dried up or are dying.
A section of lake victoria covered by the water weed at kisumu
Lakes that have dried up
Originally covering 68,000 km2 (same size of Lake Victoria today), Araal lake situated on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has since the 1960s been steadily shrinking after the rivers that fed it are said to have been diverted by soviet irrigation projects.
Considered one of the planets worst environment disasters, as of 2007, Araal had shrank to 10% of its original size, affecting fishing and triggering unemployment and economic difficulties.
Hit hard by changes in rainfall patterns, overgrazing, deforestation and increasing demand by the surrounding population, Lake Chad is on the brink of totally drying up, with almost 95% of its volumes gone.
Fishermen and farmers living near Malawi’s second-largest water body, Lake Chilwa, are relocating en masse and scrambling for space around its shores as the lake has dried to dangerously low levels. The lake dried up completely in 1995 following a drought.
Located in northern Tanzania, Lake Manyara is drying up and experts have cautioned that unless drastic measures are taken, the water body could disappear completely.
The lake which in the past could drown an adult today has a water depth of only 30 centimetres, more than 200 times less than the previous average depth
Nevada’s Lake Mead, which sits down river from Lake Powell has seen its water volume drop by over 60% due to persistent drought and increased water demand.
Lake Superior in the US, which is said to be the world’s largest freshwater lake, has been shrinking for years. Those who go to the lake’s beach have to walk up to 300 feet (100 yards) farther to reach shorelines. Also, some of the docks on the lake are unusable because of low water
Fishermen at Gaba landing site organise their nets after work. Photo by Andrea Marshall
Sustainable use of the water resources is the way to go, according to Okurut. He notes that although the population, as seen by the towns in the lake basin, has exerted pressure on water resources and biodiversity, especially, through over exploitation and the generation of waste, which is in most cases not treated, it is not too late to turn the tide. “Therefore, marching waste management and biodiversity responses to the population pressures will greatly inform processes that are essential for sustainability of the resources of the Lake Victoria basin,” he advises.
Regulated water usage and other attendant interventions such as improved wetland conservation and management, protection of the lake’s feeder rivers, plus increased afforestation will not only improve the water levels, but water quality as well. Lake Victoria is not the only lake that is said to have dried up or that is drying up. Several others have suffered while others are suffering a similar fate.
Why is L. Victoria dying out and what should be done ?
Hafusa Kanyango, a communications specialist
It is true Lake Victoria is dying out because the Government has declined to evict people who construct in wetlands. If Lake Victoria is to be saved, the Government should evict all people who have businesses next
Lawrence Mandate, a public relations officer
Recently we had rain and this has replenished the water levels, but the East African countries need to develop a unified policy frame work supported by a legal frame work devoid of local political considerations to protect Lake Victoria water catchment areas for sustainable long time protection of the lake
Hudaya Nampiima, an engineer
I think Lake Victoria is dying out because of the water hyacinth, which has greatly affected the colour of the water. The Government should employ a team of experts to sensitise the public on how to look after the lake.
John Kibuuka, a teacher
For sure Lake Victoria died some time back. Right now, the Government should wake up and educate the people about the importance and the dangers of its distortion.
Sulaiman Serunjoji, a trader in Kampala
Lake Victoria is dying out because of pollution from industries next to the lake. The Government should put up strict laws on industrialists who dispose wastes and chemicals into the lake.
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