Deforestation and sand mining have destroyed this part of the lake at Kitinda near Entebbe town
LAKE VICTORIA POLLUTION
In 2014, New Vision run a campaign aimed at saving Lake Victoria. Several measures were taken to save the lake. Many plans were developed; some implemented, while others just remained on paper.
Six years later, the lake faces extinction at the hands of human activities which include pollution and degradation. New Vision brings you the stories that were published then.
Khemis Nkata, 65, recalls the good old days when, as children, they used to leave their homes to play in the white sands on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kitinda. "We would build small houses and draw pictures in the sand," Nkata recalls. "It was fun lying half-naked in the sand.
The whole of this stretch was covered with white sand," he says nostalgically, pointing to an area that is now completely dredged. The white sand is no more. The beautiful scenery has been replaced by ugly gaping holes filled with muddy water.
This is all the businessmen have left behind along the lake shores after digging up sand for the booming construction industry in Entebbe, Kampala and the surrounding areas. With the growing real estate business, the lake sand is on high demand and the businessmen are taking advantage of this to make an extra buck.
"There is no more fish for them; the lake has been depleted and they are now turning their wrath to the shores," laments Nkata, a resident of Kitinda village, Katabi sub-county in Wakiso district laments.
Nkata narrates how big trucks now frequent this place to ferry away from the sand, an activity that is a threat to Lake Victoria on which an estimated 30 million people depend, either directly or indirectly.
This, environmentalists say, calls for urgent action to preserve the lake. They warn that digging up sand near the lake is bad for fish. They also cite the most pressing problems of Lake Victoria today as pollution, oxygen depletion, overfishing and algae growth.
Population growth, unemployment and lack of better alternatives have all increased pressure on the lake, forcing many to turn to fishing for a daily income. The fishermen have resorted to illegal fishing methods, while industrialists are releasing industrial waste into the lake. All these have had dire consequences on the lake waters. Not all hope is lost, though, as there might still be ways of salvaging the lake.
During the 12th Lake Victoria Region Local Authorities Co-operation (LVRLAC) annual general assembly held at Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe recently, the fisheries state minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, called on the East African Legislative Assembly to enact strict laws to save the lake.
"We need amendments in the laws that govern the importation of fishing gear. We must strictly work to curb the exportation of immature fish if we are to achieve our goals," Nankabirwa stressed.
She noted that since the cooperation cuts across three East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, the amendments will enable the revenue bodies in the three countries to put in place stringent measures to fight the importation of illegal fishing gear.
Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater body in the world, is shared by Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The most common gear that floods the market from countries like China includes mosquito nets, hooks, and kokota (which trap even the smallest fish).
The East African Legislative Assembly Speaker Margaret Zziwa promised to support the efforts. She observed that LVRLAC is an important stakeholder in preserving the lake. "The lake is not only a source of income for the fishermen but also important for the population's nutrition needs, tourism and transport," she explained.
Zziwa said after the passing of the Lake Victoria Basin Bill, navigation stones will be restored in the lake as the old ones were destroyed over the years. She called on the population living around the lake to guard it jealously as their own.
LVRLAC which has shown significant growth with the current membership of 130 local authorities in the three countries was founded in 1997. It was formed to coordinate and strengthen collaborative efforts by local authorities within the Lake Victoria Basin towards sustainable harnessing of the region's resources to promote the well-being of the riparian communities.
Fish scarcity During the same meeting, Entebbe Municipality Mayor Vincent Kayanja expressed concern over the activities that have destroyed Lake Victoria. The meeting also discussed how they could bring on board the private sector to promote sustainable utilization of Lake Victoria resources.
Kayanja decried the act of excavating sand around the lake shores, which he warned may lead to fish scarcity. He explained that fish breeds in shallow waters near the lakeshores and the removal of sand from such places is likely to disturb its breeding pattern.
"By removing sand, many eggs may be destroyed while at the same time the greenish plant, which grows around the lake shores and is eaten by fish will also be destroyed leaving them with no food," he warned. Environmentalists explain that dirty water, which gathers in the ditches after the removal of sand will prevent the penetration of sun rays into the deeper waters.
This, they cautioned, could deplete the water the oxygen, which is necessary for the fish to survive. Kayanja also cautioned that the areas around the lake have a lot of mosquitoes. "The rainwater that collects in these holes providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which leads to the increase of malaria cases in the municipality," he explains.
Participants were dismayed to learn that the swamps and wetlands that used to filter the waste before reaching the lake had been taken up by human activities resulting in lake contamination. The private sector to take part in Dr Allan Shonubi, the chairman of Uganda Breweries, suggested that the private sector should actively get involved in the conservation of the lake as part of their corporate social responsibility.
"For example, companies could finance the restocking of fish and contribute to the policing of the lake using speed boats," Shonubi explained. He noted that at the current population of 35.6 million, up from seven million in 1962, Uganda is facing a big challenge of space scarcity and unemployment.
"Many have turned to fish where they use illegal nets that harvest immature fish, denying the species the opportunity to multiply," Shonubi explained. He added that the fish deep into the lake leaving the fish with no chance to survive. It was also noted that many use the lake as a dumping ground for industrial waste and human waste as few fishing villages have latrines.
Bulago Island case Shonubi said that as many people had started fish farming, the private sector could lobby the Government to purchase the fish and later release it into various bays in the lake.
He added that such bays could be turned into reserve (no-fishing) areas to allow fish to multiply. He said at Bulago Island where this has been done by prohibiting fishing, fish has returned.