In the second year of our campaign to save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will until June 5, run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
Today, John Eremu and Andrew Masinde look at how Egypt has invested billions in making Lake Victoria a water weed free lake
The Nile, they say, is the lifeblood of Egypt. It would therefore, be difficult to imagine what life would be in Egypt without the Nile river.
Because of this, Egypt has always taken keen interest to protect Lake Victoria, where River Nile originates, to ensure uninterrupted water supply to this lower riparian state.
In the same breath, it would be difficult to imagine what Lake Victoria, and by extension, Lake Kyoga, would be like without Egyptian assistance.
Perhaps the two lakes would have been completely colonised by the dreaded water hyacinth and other invasive weeds.
If this was not the case, Uganda would have had to spend colossal sums of money to fight the water hyacinth that invaded the country’s water bodies in the 1990s.
However, because of a cooperation agreement, Egypt has since 1999 spent $24.4m (sh63b) to fight the water hyacinth and other invasive water weeds on the two lakes.
The project support came in three phases with the first phase amounting to $13.9m (sh36.1bn) covering the period 1999 – 2007.
The phase involved fighting the dreaded water hyacinth that had covered expansive surface of Lake Victoria and lakes Albert and Kyoga.
Specifically the money was spent on procuring 47 pieces of water weed harvesting equipment including trucks and excavators as well as meeting operational and maintenance expenses, according to Dr. Yosry Khafagy, the head of the Egyptian irrigation Mission in Uganda.
Khafagy says the second phase 2007 – 2010 worth $4.5m (sh11.7b) went toward the procurement of more water weed harvesting equipment and the operational area now included the Great Lakes Region, especially controlling the weed from Kagera river mouth, its entry point into Lake Victoria.
The third phase that started last year and will run for two years will cost sh2m (sh5.2b) and has a big dose of livelihood projects, improving sanitation on landing sites and capacity building.
Fishermen struggle through the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria
“We are going to construct 12 rainwater harvesting dams nationwide based on the needs assessment from the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries,” disclosed Khafagy.
“We are also going to construct four fish ponds and improve two landing sites in Amolatar and Kaliro. We are also going to make improvements on Masese landing site in Jinja including the construction of water closets in the market in addition to weed control activities on six sites including at the mouth of River Kagera and Kitibulu Bay in Entebbe,” Khafagy said adding that at the moment they remove up to 600 tonnes of the water hyacinth daily from the mouth or River Kagera.
Under capacity building, Youssry disclosed that they have so far trained 100 technicians from the agriculture and water and environment ministries on dam and ground water management as well as on how to operate and maintain the water weed harvesting equipment.
Still under the cooperation agreement, Ismail Abdelbaky, the project engineer irrigation and water resource ministry, Egypt explains that they are expected to remove over 15 million cubic metres (m³) of aquatic weeds blocking the lake outlets and the improvement of fishing activities of villages dependent on fishing.
He said they will also clear the weeds threatening the stability of the Pakwach Bridge which connects Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan as well as the development of the Gaba Port facility.
The project technical team comprises of officials from the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and they carry out joint monitoring, inspection and supervision of the project.
Eng. Dominic Mucunguzi, the project coordinator Uganda – Egypt Aquatic Weed Control Project and Watershed Management, says the Egyptian assistance was timely because the lake was in bad state.
He says the weed had seriously affected the water quality as well as the water table.
“The weed invaded the lake in 1994 though it was not serious so we were hesitant.
This is why we looked for help and the Egyptian government came up to solve the problem,” Mucunguzi said.
“The weed comes from River Kagera through Lake Victoria and to Kyoga.
The reason it does not settle in these other lakes is because they are not contaminated. When they flow and find contaminated landing sites, that is where they settle and multiply at a very high speed,” he explained.
The fishing communities in the project beneficiary areas are happy with the developments.
At Moone landing site in Nakasongola, which was famous for tilapia, Nile perch and cat fish, among others, the fish stocks had drastically dwindled because of the water weed.
Robert Nyombi, a fisherman and also the area LC 1 chairman who has lived in the area for over 30 years and depended on fishing, says things went bad in 1998 when the water weeds invaded the area.
“No one can believe this water was fresh and you could sail from one point to the other without any disruption,” he says pointing to a thick mat of the water weed.
“But today you cannot go fishing in the night yet that is the time we used to get real fi sh. The water has a bad smell. If you are a visitor, you might think dead bodies of animals are dumped in the water,” he said adding that as a result, water borne diseases had become common.
“We organised ourselves and tried to remove the weeds but failed. It is too much. But with the coming up of the Egyptian government, we hope the conditions will improve,” added Nyombi.