Send me no flow­ers

Pasatiempo - - Heart-warming Gifts -

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.”

— S.M.

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