Send me no flowers
On April 10, 1995, Lake Naivasha in Kenya was designated a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that “embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the ‘wise use,’ or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.” The Ramsar Convention has 159 member states, including the United States, the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, and Kenya.
The biodiversity of Lake Naivasha includes more than 350 species of birds and an important population of hippopotami, including the common hippopotamus, which is currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species.
Water extraction that supplies a multimillion-dollar cut-flower and fruit export industry threatens this biodiversity, however. The lake and the numbers of hippopotami are shrinking— a 25 percent drop in the hippo population was recorded between 2004 and 2006 alone, according to an article published in the online edition of the British newspaper The Times on March 28, 2006.
This is one example of what water activists call the “virtual export of water.” Flowers picked in the morning in Kenya appear in the United Kingdom and European flower auctions the same day. In 2005, one Kenyan grower was reported to have produced 1 million roses for Valentine’s Day.
Because British and European consumers continue to buy roses and out-of-season fruit from this poor African country— and because environmental treaties like the Ramsar Convention are essentially expressions of good will— Lake Naivasha and its hippos are probably doomed. That’s the opinion of David Harper, an ecologist at the University of Leicester who has studied Lake Naivasha since 1982.
In the Times Online article, Harper said, “The unsustainable extraction of water for agriculture, horticulture, urban and residential water supplies is sucking the lake dry. As the lake becomes smaller and shallower, it will become warmer, fueling the growth of microscopic algae. It is only a matter of time before the lake becomes toxic.”