Lake Victoria is under threat and the very people this water source is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence.
Until World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s largest fresh water lake
BY GERALD TENYWA
He left a trail of footprints on the white sand beach. I was enjoying every bit of the sand before curiosity tickled me to follow the footprints. The beach has turned into one large toilet.
Kakyanga Island in Lake Victoria is littered with human waste in a manner similar to commuter taxis parked in Kampala’s Old Park. I had never seen such widespread open defecation. I held my nose as questions boggled my mind.
How can such a treasure be wasted? Is it because there are no toilets? I inquire from Samuel Wasswa, a boat operator on Kakyanga Island.
He says you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink. “This place has a public toilet, but people still believe that using a toilet brings bad omen to the fishermen on the lake,” he says.
“It is not easy to deal with fishermen when it comes to toilet matters. However, they forget that when you do not use a toilet, poor sanitation causes diseases and sometimes people pay heavily.”
Superstition and toilets
Fishermen believe going to the toilet before a fishing expedition will bring a curse and people will not get a good catch from the lake.
“It is so bad that some fishermen who go to the toilet, are shunned by their colleagues,” says David Mukama, the sanitation coordinator, Ministry of Water and Environment.
In a different interview,
Tadeo Mwesigwa, the secretary for production and environment at Kalangala, says culture is not so much of a problem. “The toilets are too few to serve the big population,” he says.
Speaking on the sidelines of the three day-East African CSO Forum organised at Lake Victoria Serena Resort, Entebbe, last week, Mukama said over 90% of the diseases in Uganda are linked to poor sanitation.
As a result of the high disease burden, poverty levels are increasing because people spend a lot of their productive time immobilised or attending to sick people.
According to the performance report released by the Ministry of Water and Environment in 2012, Kalangala’s toilet coverage is estimated at 41%-60%, meaning that about half of the population does not have access to toilets.
Kakyanga should even be worse than nearby Buggala, which lays claim to much of the prosperity in Kalangala district.
On Buvuma in Mukono, access to toilets is among the worst in the country outside Karamoja region in northern-eastern. Buvuma’s toilet coverage is between 21% and 40%. The national average is estimated at 70%, according to the report.
While creative interventions of the Government, local government and NGOs have made an attempt to alleviate the problem, some rural communities are resistant to abandoning open defecation.
This, according to Mukama, is a challenge encountered among communities living on the islands and the districts in the catchment of Lake Victoria.
Apart from cultural barriers, the ground is rocky and too hard to dig pit latrines. It is also so sandy that latrines get filled with water in a short time, making sanitation a perpetual problem.
“Technology advances should provide a solutionn,” says Jane Nabunya, the country director of Triple S, a non-governmental organisation.
In some cases, ecological sanitation, also referred to as Eco-sans, have been provided as an alternative to pit latrines. This too, has cultural barriers, given that most people who use pit latrines do not want to see their human waste.
Given that fishermen have a nomadic lifestyle, sanitation is always a problem. “The fishermen move as fish migrates,” says Mwesigwa, adding that this dictates that fishermen move to where there are plentiful catches of fish.
At the moment, fish is scarce and fishermen have to go deep into the lake and sometimes spend three to four days on the lake. “Where do they answer the call of nature? It is a challenge and we do not know what to do,” says Mwesigwa.
The district, according to Mwesigwa, has meagre resources, adding that sanitation should be a big priority, but it is one of the least funded sectors at the district. He also says the islands are scattered in Lake Victoria, making it hard for the technical officers to monitor.
Previously, fishermen were marginalised communities, living in desolate conditions cut off from the rest of the world due to thin infrastructure such as roads, which persists up today in most the islands scattered on the lake.
When it comes to housing, most of the fishermen stay in makeshift houses and to some of them, access to a toilet is a luxury.
While Uganda is likely to hit the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target on water by 2015, it is lagging behind on sanitation. Currently,