Lessons to learn from the rise of Lake Victoria waters

Lake Victuria
Lake Victuria

About 70% of the earth is covered by water but 97% of this is in the oceans, which deems it unsuitable for human consumption because of its salinity. The remaining 3% is divided between streams, glaciers, rivers, lakes, ground water and atmospheric water. This leaves us with close to 1% of surface water mainly from rivers and lakes of which Lake Victoria is globally among the biggest providers.

Lake Victoria supports many households in the region through activities like fishing, with an estimated annual production of 800,000metric tons of fish, farming, industrialization and provision of electricity through hydropower.

Surprisingly, despite being a valuable resource to the nation, there is continued engagement in activities that destroy it!!

In his 11th Covid19 address to the nation, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni notified the public about the floating island resulting from rising water levels of Lake Victoria. He further warned illegal occupants to vacate the lake shores before forceful eviction from NEMA. Not only has the risen water affected activities around the lake but has cut off some islands from the mainland.

Must we wait for such calamities to befall the country before addressing the causes? Shouldn’t the relevant authorities have disseminated early warning information to the public? The rise of Lake Victoria waters combined with ceaseless flooding of Kampala suburbs are telltale signs of more catastrophic incidents to occur. Care must be taken to protect the water from contamination and encroachment amidst the ever-rising population. In light of the above, I call for the following;

Concerned authorities in charge of the Lake Victoria region should be more proactive. Rather than wait for crises to befall the country, these bodies need to strengthen the monitoring system to provide timely warnings to communities surrounding the lake shores about changes in the lake to combat damage. Continual daily monitoring will further reduce vulnerability of local fishermen to weather hazards if they are kept abreast with weather changes. Averages of 300 fishermen lose their lives to weather patterns like heavy storms annually. Incidentally, 41% of fishermen indicated not having knowledge about weather changes from meteorology stations in their region (Baudoin,M.A, Fernando, N., and Zommers, 2016).

It is evident increase in the water levels found communities surrounding the lake unprepared. This demonstrates lack of awareness about climate and weather-related information. Responsible government departments and civil society organizations should intensify awareness campaigns to end users bearing in mind that majority may not afford newspapers, TV sets or smart phones which are key outlets for early warning information. Whereas some can afford smartphones, they lack the time and skills to comprehend complex climate information. Thus, dissemination of information should not be limited to media announcements but should be blended with thorough trainings in local languages for the benefit of the rural populace. Involvement of local leaders could be considered to boost awareness since indigenous persons are in constant touch with them.

Destruction and occupation of the Lakeshores should be put to an end. Notably, a quick tour around the lake reveals several activities taking place. These are not limited to sand mining, retail shops, fishing but the construction of lavish homes yet regulations prohibit construction of houses at least 200 meters from the lake. This leaves a lot of questions as to how structures are raised alongside and in the lake without the awareness of the mandated authorities? Or should we assume they are adamant to take action against illegal occupants? Since the lake coordinates with swamps, marsh lands etc, it spills excess water into these water resources during rainy seasons but their continual destruction increases water levels in the lake. Additionally, lake shores filter sewage and emission deposits and thus destroying them leaves the lake open to contamination.

An end should be put to the disposal of human, industrial and car oil waste into the lake. Recent studies reveal that the lake contains minerals possibly from business operations surrounding the lake. Accumulation of these minerals could leave the water toxic, unsafe for consumption and expose us to health problems including fish and animals that drink from the shores.

It is also apparent people have hitherto disregarded the existing laws on environment issues. The government needs to adopt more stringent measures or the enactment of fresh laws governing the use of Lake Victoria to curb illegal occupancy.

In the face of the struggle against Covid-19, my appeal goes to stakeholder communities to observe this as a civic obligation and vacate the shores as the President advised. Nevertheless, should eviction of illegal occupants occur it should not be selective but include affluent occupants too. 

Author

Jacqueline Samalie Nalukwago

Office of the Prime Minister, International University of East Africa

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