Livelihoods threatened as Lake Victoria slowly loses its natural resources

Women harvest sand in Usenge, Siaya County. Scarcity of fish as a result of increased hyacinth in Lake Victoria has pushed fish monger to other activities.Picture:Henry Owino
Women harvest sand in Usenge, Siaya County. Scarcity of fish as a result of increased hyacinth in Lake Victoria has pushed fish monger to other activities.Picture:Henry Owino

Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake in Africa and home to numerous flora and fauna some of which human beings depend on for livelihood.

However, this glory is at stake as all these resources are quickly diminishing from the lake as a result of climate change that has been necessitated by human activities.

It seems that what the late Prof Wangari Maathai, world renowned environmentalist and World Noble Laureate used to is actually being realized at this lake that serves almost all countries within Eastern Africa. Wangari always said: “If you destroy nature, nature will destroy you.”

The lake’s water is receding and levels getting shallow due to prolonged drought owing to absence of rain and high temperatures.

A weed known as water hyacinth has engulfed most parts of the water surface making it hard for fish to breed naturally. Fish seems to be suffocating since they compete for fresh oxygen and sunlight, a situation that sees most of them die prematurely.

As a result, the population of fish has drastically reduced, with water levels getting lower while human activity in the lake continues. Communities living along the lake, whose chief economic activity is fishing, are finding it tedious.

The deadly water hyacinth weed is also killing this eminent economic activity that feeds thousands and many depend on as a source of their livelihood.

Many residents of those who are successful and come from the lakeside were educated by fish business.

The weed is causing more harm than good yet no solution has been found to eliminate it. Today parents are finding it hard to send their children to secondary schools as the fish business is dwindling.

Some fishermen have switched to become motor bike operators (boda boda riders) carrying passengers, fetching water and ferrying commodities at a fee.

Others have turned their boats to be used for sand harvesting (fishing sand) while previously women fishmongers are now collecting sand for sale.

Jane Akinyi, popularly known as Nyalego, who was popularly known for her smoked and fried fish in Usenge Village, Bondo Sub-county has resorted to sand harvesting business despite the risks involves.

She argues that she has to find work as long as it can put food on the table. She motivates herself with the argument that she has moved from mongering fish to mongering sand, a situation dictated by life.

Akinyi wakes up at 5:00am and walks to Goye Beach, about two kilometres from where she lives to catch up with her fellow colleagues at the lake. At the lake, they collect sand from a boat deep in the lake and ferry it to the mainland.

They use a 20 litres bucket in ferrying the sand which forces them to make several trips in order to accumulate sand enough to fill a seven tonne lorry.

Those with the lorries buys the sand at between KSh2,000 and KSh2,500 while eleven tonne lorry buys the sand at between KSh4,500 and KSh5,000.

“When signs of fish scarcity in the lake began showing up, I thought of survival tactics. I hate begging, so sand harvesting became my immediate new occupation and today it provides for my basic needs,” explains Akinyi.

Initially sand harvesting along the shores of Lake Victoria was done by men. However, when residents complained that it interferes with their farms, Siaya County Government banned it. Consequently since 2015 people harvesting sand are forced to excavate it inside the lake.

“Harvesting sand is not easy compared to fishing or selling the fish. It requires energy, good health and perseverance,” notes Akinyi. “This is because one has to wake up very early when it’s cold to makes trips to and from the cold lake water and ferry very heavy buckets of sand.”

Despite payment for sand being instant, Akinyi says there is also the risk that one could be attacked by crocodile.

“I chose this work because I am used to lake. Some people may mistake women harvesting sand as prostitutes but we are faithful to our partners and they support our work,” Akinyi clarifies.

Many fishermen have gone to other activities while those with enough capital have ventured into cage fishing. This shows how seriously water hyacinth has negatively impacted on fishing industry.

The lake that used to be fresh and clean has turned green, polluted with all sorts of weeds and chemicals from industrial waste.

Soon or later, even the people who have devised the new method of rearing fish in cages will be forced to fold up.

Sixty-one year old Johannes Gaunye, who has been a fisherman his entire adult life cautions that unless something is done urgently, the lake’s rich resources will be a thing of the past.

Noting that Lake Victoria is shared by four East African countries, the work to eliminate the weed should be undertaken by all the concerned governments.

Married three wives, Gaunye says his family has been entirely dependent on the fishing business. However, for the last two years, he notes, life has not been easy for him.

“The way I used to eat, cloth and have leisure has changed. The drought has affected both dry land and the lake,” says Gaunye. He adds: “Waking up at 3:00 am only to catch fish worth KSh500 or KSh700 is very discouraging.”

Gaunye says it’s for this reason that young fishermen have moved on to boda boda business. He notes that his age can’t allow him to ride motor bikes and hence the reason why he is sticking to fishing despite the challenges.

He is appealing to the national government and any other environmental agency to come up with solutions to save the lake.

Seventeen years since the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria started, environmentalists or researchers have not been able to come up with a solution.

 

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