Wednesday,November 25,2020 15:19 PM

Who is killing Lake Kyoga?

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd February 2011 03:00 AM

“GGAA gaa gaa”, the crows fly away, cawing as if complaining about the disturbance of their peace. For they had quietly perched on this modern fish shed at Kalungi landing site on the shores of Lake Kyoga when we approached.

“GGAA gaa gaa”, the crows fly away, cawing as if complaining about the disturbance of their peace. For they had quietly perched on this modern fish shed at Kalungi landing site on the shores of Lake Kyoga when we approached.

By Gerald Tenywa

“GGAA gaa gaa”, the crows fly away, cawing as if complaining about the disturbance of their peace. For they had quietly perched on this modern fish shed at Kalungi landing site on the shores of Lake Kyoga when we approached.

Wilson Kigozi, 25, a fisherman in this famous landing site in Nakasongola district, wonders why the lakeshore is moving further away from the village, denying them plentiful catches of fish. He is angry that no government official has explained the reason behind what Kigozi thinks is the biggest problem in Kalungi sub-county.

Kigozi turns and points at the fish shed constructed by the local government that has now become a perching spot for birds. The shed, now standing half-a-kilometre from the lake, is a white elephant.

“We abandoned the fish shed five years ago because it was far from the shore,” Kigozi says.

Climatic changes cause shifting of lakeshores

In the 1960s, the lake experienced extreme climatic changes. Heavy rains caused flooding, displacing people who had settled near the shores. But prolonged droughts caused the shores to rescind, until the El Nino rains of 1997-98. This displaced people until 2003-2004.

“The lake is receding where it was,” says 37-year-old Emmanuel Sekyanzi, a resident of Lwampanga landing site in Nakasongola. “My parents used to live at a place which is now under water,” he says.

Poor faming methods and charcoal burning

Scientists, under a network, Friends of Lake Kyoga, say as much as there are climatic extremes, the future of the lake is bleak and that massive silting is pushing it to its death bed.

“This lake is being buried because of human activity,” says Dr. Evelyn Lutalo of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), who is also part of Friends of Lake Kyoga.

She blames agriculture and massive cutting of trees for the depletion of natural vegetation that once covered the soil.

Kyoga, on which about five million people in 11 districts depend for their livelihood, is described as a shallow lake because its deepest part is less than 10 metres. Its average depth is only three metres.

“The lake is under heavy silting and soon some brave people will be able to cross it on foot,” says Lutalo.

The lake lies in a drought-prone belt also referred to as the cattle corridor, cutting across the country from Moroto and Kotido in the north east across the central region to Ntungamo in south western Uganda. The soil in this area is sandy, favouring pastoralism.

Due to insecurity in the Teso region in the 1980s and 1990s, most of the population turned to cultivation of crops like millet, groundnuts and cassava which, according to Lutalo, remove the soil cover.

Alternative crops like paddy rice have also driven people into the wetlands, leading to the drying up of swamps and blocking streams and rivers that used to feed Lake Kyoga with water.

“The paddy rice may bring in good returns for two or three seasons, but the yield declines thereafter,” says Lutalo.

In Lwampanga, most trees have been burnt to produce charcoal. With the trees almost wiped out, most charcoal burners in Lwampanga have either turned to brick making, fishing or migrated to Kampala’s growing slums in search of better paying jobs.

Such changes, Lutalo says, have come from shortcuts to “create wealth”, but they are responsible for the misery and pain of the people who depend on the lake for survival.

The cattle corridor favours cattle rearing, but it is being over exploited by charcoal burners and parts of it have been turned into farmland with disastrous consequences.

“The top soil is thin and cannot retain rain water,” says Lutalo. “This means a lot of soil is washed into the lake when it rains.”

The lake is becoming less lucrative because of less fish. The soil nutrients eroded from the catchment areas have provided water weeds with nutrients to thrive on the lake.

Egyptian factor
Egypt has provided a helping hand in uprooting the weeds such as the water hyacinth from lakes Victoria and Kyoga. As they were removing the water weed, the sudds (floating islands) appeared on the lake, blocking River Nile, which flows across Lake Kyoga.

To reduce flooding and restore the normal flow of the river, the Egyptians responded to calls from the Ugandan Government to remove the sudds.

But some of the residents say the helping hand of the Egyptians has turned into a problem. They say as a result of the dredging of the sudds which used to control the water flow, more water is being released by the lake. It is feared that the lake could shrink and remain just a stream where River Nile passes.

“In Uganda we do not have a
dredging programme. That is why the lakes are disappearing,” says Fred Wanda, the agriculture ministry aquatic weed specialist.

“Unless you touch the control point, which is beyond Masindi Port, there is no way you can damage the lake,” he argues

“But the lake is going to die because of the invasion of weeds.”

However, NEMA boss Dr. Aryamanya Mugisha, says the Egyptian intervention on the lake was never cleared by the environmental watchdog.
“These activities to-date do not have an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA),” says Mugisha. “They (Egyptians) are taking advantage of our disorganisation and this is going to wreck the lake,” he says.

EIA is a study done to examine the implications of a proposed undertaking to ensure mitigating measures are put in place before or during project implementation.

EIA, Mugisha says, is a basis for clearing, modifying or stopping a project altogether. “It may require a public hearing if the issues raised in the EIA are controversial,” he says.

For Lutalo, the appearance of weeds and sudds is a result of mismanagement in the catchment of the lake.
To save the lake, Lutalo says the Government should take the lead in driving the lead agencies like water, environment, local governments and NGOs in sustainable management of the lake and its catchment areas.

She says the lake has rich tourism prospects and fisheries, which should be harnessed to rekindle the lives of people like Kigozi.

Who is killing Lake Kyoga?

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