EnvironmentNews

Stressed-out Lake Victoria may become extinct in a century or so

The freshwater body basin is home to 45 million East Africans

MONDAY December 6, 2021

Flags of the six East African Community partner states. PHOTO | EAC

By Joe Lihundi,

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Lake Victoria will disappear in 123 years’ time if ongoing mismanagement of the world’s second largest freshwater body after the North America’s Lake Superior persists, experts warn.

The existence of Lake Victoria and its basin, which support livelihood of 5.3 million Burundians, 15.9 million Kenyans, 8.8 million Rwandans, 7.4 million Tanzanians and 7.5 million Ugandans is under extreme pressure compounded by population growth and rapid urbanisation.

While the lake abounds with unsustainable fishing methods, untreated effluent and water hyacinth; land, agrochemicals, sediment loads and solid wastes are not aptly managed within the basin.

The experts blame five East African Community (EAC) partner states surrounding the lake for sitting on the fence as deteriorating quality of water from outside the basin fuels pollution, atmospheric deposition and climate change.

The EAC partner states though admit that the lake and its basin are areas of high economic interest to be developed and manned jointly, they do not honour their financial obligations.

Dilapidated fishing boats abandoned on the shore of Lake Victoria. PHOTO | ISTOCK

A latest report by the Committee on Accounts of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) says the EAC partner states are not only delaying, but also reducing funding to the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) tasked to oversee the health of the lake.

The regional House debated and approved the report, recommending to the EAC Council of Ministers to urgently increase funding to the LVBC to relieve the lake of the mounting stress.

While the LVBC needs about $300,000 to rescue the lake, the EAC partner states owe the commission $289,397 in outstanding VAT refunds.

As a result of the financial constraints, the custodian of the lake fails to implement key programmes and projects meant to develop and manage water, fisheries, land, forests, wetlands and trade, commerce and industry.

The LVBC can neither carry out sustainable conservation measures nor repair its research vessel dubbed RV Jumuiya and the constructing of its headquarters has stalled.

A precariously balanced rock in Lake Victoria in Mwanza City, Tanzania. It is situated at a point where a statue of the late German chancellor Otto von Bismarck was said to be erected, thus taking his name. PHOTO | PICHA STOCK

Equally stuck are scientific studies to determine the depth of the lake; purchase of personal life saving appliances, preparation of regulations under the Lake Victoria Transport Act; prevention of oil and chemical pollution and counting and registering persons on board passenger vessels.

The LVBC has also not yet developed a regional maritime security policy and plan of action and failed to dry-dock the RV Jumuiya.

The research vessel valued at about $600,000 was donated to the EAC by the Department For International Development (DFID), UK, and was initially based in Lake Nyasa where it was dismantled and transported to the Mwanza Port by road.

The vessel has been docked at Mwanza South Port in Tanzania awaiting $81,825 worth repairs, dry-docking and relevant certificates.

“How can a boat sit for a decade and a captain and a chief engineer are paid salaries for doing nothing,” wondered the EALA member, Dr Leonardo Ann, during the debate, prompting the Speaker, Mr Martin Ngoga, to demand proper explanation from the EAC Council of Ministers.

RV Jumuiya, a research vessel belonging to the East African Community, has beed idle for about a decade now. PHOTO | ALAMY

The RV Jumuiya certificate of seaworthiness expired in 2012. She has to be dry-docked and inspected before she is issued with a new one.

Also expired are certificates for ship registration and safe manning as well as certificates of her captain and chief engineer.

The vessel can only pass seaworthiness inspection and be licensed to operate again if her mechanical problems are addressed during dry-docking.

Headquarters

After the LVBC was relocated to Kisumu in January 2007, the Kenya government provided the commission with 12thand 13 floors of Property House as it awaits completion of its headquarters.

The government also donated a 2.8-hectare land valued at $560,000 for the three-storey building which Tareef Enterprises was constructing at $3.54 million.

Kenya Cabinet Secretary for the East African Community (EAC) and Regional Development Adan Mohamed (Right) arrives at a site to inspect construction works for the headquarters of Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Kisumu, Kenya, as the outgoing Executive Secretary of the Commission, Dr Ally-Said Matano, receives the Cabinet Secretary who doubles as the Chairman of the EAC Council of Ministers. PHOTO | COURTESY

The construction work stalled because the EAC Council of Ministers has not yet approved a balance of $2.19 million.

The LVBC is, in addition, understaffed; thanks to recommendations by the EAC Ad hoc Commission in its Workload Analysis and Job Evaluation report, as some of the commission’s key posts have been scrapped.

Dr Ezechiel Nibigira, the Burundi minister for EAC Affairs promised the House that the Council of Ministers would be submitting reports on the implementation of the programmes and projects of the bloc. “This is the way we should be doing,” he stressed.

Lake Victoria’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems support a huge biodiversity. Its wildlife habitat for Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and Serengeti National Park — a Unesco World Heritage Site — in Tanzania offer beautiful wildlife safaris which fetch $250 million annually.

The lake with a surface area of 68,000 square kilometres and a basin area of 115,000 square kilometres has the potential for producing 720 megawatts to 60 per cent of 87 surrounding cities and towns which also rely on it for water for both domestic and industrial use.

It is a rich fishery resource yielding over 1 million tonnes annually and fetching $250 million worth foreign exchange.

East African Legislative Assembly Speaker Martin Ngoga demands explanation on bleated implementation of the East African Community programmes and projects. PHOTO | DAILY NEWS

The godsend’s fertile soils are ideal for a wide range of crops. Lake Victoria also provides shorter interstate routes, as it is strategically connected through all modes of transport.

The protocol establishing the LVBC provides the scope of EAC partner states’ cooperation in 14 areas, namely development and management of water, fisheries, land use, forests, wetlands as well as of trade, commerce and industry.

Other areas are infrastructure and energy; navigation, safety and maritime security; public health; research, capacity building and information exchange; environment; public participation in planning and decision making; gender mainstreaming; and wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism Ω

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