Lake Victoria is under threat, and the very people this body is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence.
trueLake Victoria is under threat, and the very people this natural resource is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence. Starting today, up to June 5, World Environment Day, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, New Vision, its sister paper Bukedde and some of its platforms like Bukedde TV, Urban TV and Bukedde FM will run investigative stories and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world's second largest fresh water lake.
By Gerald Tenywa
It is 2050. The taps have run dry and death from water-borne diseases has migrated to Kampala City. The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) had been running announcements that city water supply is no longer sustainable due to lack of a reliable water source.
Lake Victoria, which has been supplying Kampala’s six million people with water, has shrunk to an expansive mass of green muddy water. It has more smelly algae than water.
Chaos has broken, not only in the city, but also in the suburbs, with reports of hundreds of deaths already reported following clashes at water points — boreholes, wells and springs. Mothers wail as they helplessly watch their children die of thirst.
At the offices of NWSC on Kampala Road, protesters hold placards stating: “Water is life and a social right. Give us water and not your cholera.”
A heavily-guarded truck of mineral water, airlifted from Europe, arrives at State House. For water had to be airlifted from Europe since the situation is no better in the neighbouring countries that all depended on Lake Victoria for much of their water needs.
The bottled mineral water is more expensive than petrol. Only few of the elites and classy rich folk hope to access the imported water.
The Presidential Special Forces at State House and the anti-riot Police are armed to the teeth with teargas canisters and bullets ready to drive away the group of protesters demanding to partake of the water. The protesters say they would rather be shot dead than endure the slow painful death from thirst.
With the death of Lake Victoria, almost all the industries have closed and the investors relocated to other countries due to lack of water and electricity.
Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels with a high number of idle people just waiting for something to ignite them. They resort to burning cars in the city and vandalising buildings.
Algae growing on Lake Victoria as a result of pollution. The waste and effluent from Kampala are feeding the algae.
As the president consults his advisers and conflict analysts, the situation seems out of hand. He looks through the newspaper archives and comes across stories that predicted that the lake was dying, but his ancestors did not take action to avert the crisis now on his hands.
Uganda’s northern neighbours, Sudan and Egypt are moving their troops southwards along the Nile to ensure that each tree that is planted is guarded and every wetland that was restored stores water.
They have lived in the desert all their lives and water is not only an environmental issue or a breeding ground for fish, but also a serious security matter.
So, they want to revive the lake because the Nile, which gives them food, originates from Uganda’s part of Lake Victoria.
This is a doomsday story. But this is not far-fetched, according to reports presented by various experts and authoritative institutions such as the top Government watchdog on environment-the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Fate of Lake Victoria
“Lake Victoria can die,” Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director of NEMA, told reporters and editors under Vision Group while presenting a paper entitled, “Lake Victoria, a matter of survival for Uganda” at the Vision Group head offices, recently.
Okurut blames human activities such as overfishing, pollution, conversion of forests and wetlands into farmland that remove the vegetation cover from soil, resulting in massive silting.
Other threats such as climate change, according Okurut the former executive secretary of Lake Victoria Basin Commission, are also to blame for the slow death of the lake.
He also pointed out that Lake Victoria is a critical resource supplying water to the cities such as Kampala, Kisumu in Kenya and Mwanza in Tanzania. The lake is also under intense pollution from the cities (unplanned urbanisation). Kampala’s two million people get water from Murchison Bay, also referred to as the mouth of the lake.
Fishermen at Luzira landing site in Kampala offload firewood from Kome Islands. Luzira is one of the polluted areas of the lake. PHOTO/Gerald Tenywa
Okurut cited Gaba Water Works located at Murchison Bay between Luzira and Gaba is literally mining water from filth because Nakivubo Channel releases waste from Kampala into Murchison Bay.
He also says the waste water from the industries, sewage and rubbish used to delay, taking weeks in Nakivubo swamp that used to remove the impurities, releasing clean water into the lake. But now the water from Kampala reaches Murchison Bay immediately after the rain has stopped.
As a result, Murchison Bay is among the worst polluted parts of Lake Victoria and the Government is considering relocating Gaba Water Works.
NWSC has, over the years, been relying on innovation to ensure that the cost of water remains affordable to the public, but there is a limit beyond which they won’t keep the cost down.
“Government will need up Sh500b to relocate Gaba Water Works,” according to Okurut. This, according to Richard Kimbowa, an environmental activist, will be the cost of failing to monitor polluting factories around the lake.
Electricity under threat
Uganda’s hydro-electric power at Nalubaale and Kiira, with a potential of 388MW and Bujagali’s 250MW, respectively, is produced using water from Lake Victoria.
Even the potential power production along the Nile, including Kalagala and Murchison Falls, estimated at 3,000MW, will disappear with Lake Victoria.
“We release water from Lake Victoria, depending on how much water is available in the lake,” according to James Banabe, a commissioner in the Ministry of Energy, adding that the more water that is available, the more hydro-electric power that is produced.
Less water, according to Banabe means more load shedding and slower economic growth.
The algae is a threat to many aquatic animals in the lake because it cuts off the supply of oxygen. PHOTO/Maria Wamala
Hunger, disease and conflicts
Okurut says it is predicted that the disease burden on Uganda’s economy is likely to increase if the degradation of the lake is not checked. For long, according to Okurut, fish was the cheapest source of proteins, but now prices are increasing as local consumers have to compete with the export markets.
Also diseases such as cholera, bilharzia and malaria are increasing, especially where the water has become polluted. In addition to this, conflicts over resources such as fishing grounds, wetlands and forests within Uganda and across the country are likely to increase.
Other underlying causes pushing Lake Victoria towards degradation is the unregulated access by all. “The lake belongs to everybody without a strong sense of responsibility,” says Okurut.
He says the underlying factors for the pollution of Lake Victoria include; lack of knowledge on managing the environment, poor urban plans, poor compliance culture, poor policies and systems, lack of research and poor coordination among government agencies.
While people keep on accusing NEMA and the fishermen over the ailing lake, Okurut says trading blame will not save the lake. “Everybody has a role to play,” he says.
Facts about Lake Victoria
- Lake Victoria, measuring 68,800 square kilometres, is the second largest fresh water lake in the world.
- It is a shallow lake.
- The lake is shared by Kenya with 6%, Uganda 43% and Tanzania 51%
- It has up 1,000,000 metric tonnes of fish in the three countries
- Pollution hotspots on the lake include Murchison Bay, Kitubulu, Bukoba, Mwanza, Musoma and Kisumu.
- The main catch is Nile perch, estimated at 51% and tilapia, estimated at about 24%. The rest is silver fish.
- Lake Victoria had more than 400 species of fish before the introduction of Nile Perch. However, it now has about 200 species. The smaller species disappeared due to the predatory behaviour of the Nile Perch.
Lake Victory could soon be history