L. Vic­to­ria’s flow­ery car­pet of death

The lake is a shared as­set among the East African coun­tries of Uganda, Tan­za­nia, and Kenya. Kenya has the small­est por­tion, which is in dan­ger now, as it was 20 years ago

The Star (Kenya) - - Front Page - OKETCH KENDO Com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and univer­sity lec­turer

Twenty years ago, jour­nal­ists called for in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity at­ten­tion to the de­plorable state of Lake Vic­to­ria. Then, as now, the wa­ter mass was suf­fo­cat­ing un­der an im­pen­e­tra­ble car­pet of wa­ter hy­acinth. The jour­nal­ists be­lieved there was, and still there is, a so­lu­tion to this en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. Mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Food and Agri­cul­ture Jour­nal­ists felt piece­meal re­port­ing was not get­ting the de­sired re­sponse from the gov­ern­ment and other en­vi­ron­men­tal agen­cies. There was need then for an in­tense me­dia cam­paign to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the cri­sis.

Weeks of or­ches­trated re­port­ing cul­mi­nated in a me­dia car­a­van to the Western Kenya, with a pub­lic fo­rum at Kendu Bay Pier, Karachuonyo, Homa Bay ounty. Me­dia houses, in­clud­ing the BBC, Reuters and other in­ter­na­tional agen­cies with bu­reaus in Nairobi, sent re­porters to cover the ‘the car­pet of death’.

Re­gional lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing the in­cum­bent Homa Bay Gover­nor Cyprian Awiti, the then Karachuonyo MP Phoebe Asiyo, and Nyanza po­lice com­mis­sioner at the time Joseph Kaguthi, were among those who at­tended.

The in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in the lake was un­der­stand­able: Lake Vic­to­ria is the sec­ond-largest fresh wa­ter mass in the world. Ex­plorer John Speke ‘dis­cov­ered’ the pris­tine source of the River Nile in 1859. Ex­plor­ers named it Lake Vic­to­ria for Queen Vic­to­ria.

The lake is a shared as­set among the East African coun­tries of Uganda, Tan­za­nia, and Kenya. Kenya has the small­est por­tion, which is in dan­ger now, as it was 20 years ago. It con­tin­ues to suf­fer gross, even crim­i­nal ne­glect. The of­fi­cial mo­tions to pro­tect the wa­ter mass from mas­sive degra­da­tion are not work­ing. In 1995, for in­stance, a re­gional plan — Lake Vic­to­ria En­vi­ron­ment Man­age­ment Pro­gramme — an East African ini­tia­tive to im­prove the qual­ity of the lake was es­tab­lished. LVEMP, even with fund­ing from the World Bank and the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, has not re­stored the qual­ity of the wa­ter mass.

World Bank and IDA’s fund­ing of pu­rifi­ca­tion plants, test­ing sta­tions, and fight­ing wa­ter hy­acinth has not im­proved the qual­ity of the lake. It is even worse than it was in 1995, when LVEMP was es­tab­lished. The stran­gle­hold of the wa­ter­weed is worse now than in 1996, when AFAJ cre­ated the in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the scourge.

The AFAJ re­port­ing cul­mi­nated in a work­shop in Gi­giri in Novem­ber 1996. The Food and and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion de­frayed the cost of the fo­rum that sug­gested po­ten­tial ac­tion lines. Re­searchers, marine sci­en­tists, politi­cians, jour­nal­ists, NGO func­tionar­ies, in­vestors, and gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crats dis­cussed the chal­lenges of con­trol­ling and erad­i­cat­ing the in­va­sive weed.

Me­chan­i­cal op­tions of de­stroy­ing the weed were con­sid­ered. Bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal op­tions were also tabled. Weevils were sup­posed to be in­tro­duced into the lake to feed on the wa­ter hy­acinth. There was even a pos­si­bil­ity of man­ual re­moval or a cock­tail of these and other pos­si­bil­i­ties.

AFAJ won an in­ter­na­tional award for the unique me­dia cam­paign: The FAO pre­sented its Bo­erma Award to the lobby in recog­ni­tion of the novel ob­jec­tives of the cam­paign. The award is pre­sented bi­en­ni­ally to a jour­nal­ist or jour­nal­ists whose cov­er­age of de­vel­op­ment is­sues help fo­cus pub­lic at­ten­tion on unique food chal­lenges.

The wa­ter hy­acinth has dis­rupted wa­ter trans­port in the lake, stran­gled fish stocks, de­stroyed the fish­ing com­mu­nity’s liveli­hood and robbed fish traders of a source of in­come. Fish pro­cess­ing and ex­ports have de­clined. Pol­lu­tion has also robbed the lake com­mu­nity of clean wa­ter.

Wa­ter hy­acinth is a free-float­ing aquatic plant with waxy green, thick leaves whose car­pet-like un­der­layer de­prives fish and other marine life of essen­tial oxy­gen and di­rect sun­light. The South Amer­i­can weed was first spot­ted in Lake Vic­to­ria in the 1980s. The dig­i­tal Ju­bilee regime, the World Bank, the FAO, UNEP, IDA, work­ing with coun­ties around the lake — Bu­sia, Si­aya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Mig­ori — can re­claim the wa­ter mass. The ur­gency of the in­ter­ven­tion is self-ev­i­dent to re­verse the eco­nomic catas­tro­phe.


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