Experts predict that 30 years from now (in 2050), freshwater will be such a scarce resource that people will fight for it. People will not fight for oil and gas because most of the countries, which may start a war, will most likely have enough of that but will not have enough fresh water.
Three eastern Africa lakes — Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi hold 30 percent of the fresh water in the world. I took time to watch the three-part investigative series on the ‘Toxic Flow: Rotting From the Deep’ aired by NTV Kenya and those who did the same will agree with me that there is an urgent need to restore the lake to make it sustainable for the community around the Lake Basin who depend on it.
Today, Lake Victoria, which was once a source of purity and livelihood for the communities who inhabit the Lake Basin, is a receptacle of filth. Its water and even the fish is no longer safe for human consumption due to the presence of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, copper and other dangerous pesticides.
This exposes the surrounding community and the country at large to serious health problems, thanks to the human activities which have led to heavy pollution.
The degraded quality of water of the lake has made it much harder for some species of fish to breed and the fishermen admitted that they have to travel deep inside the water body, some as far as a distance covered in three hours, to cast their nets if they have to get fish.
This pales in contrast to some years back when they would cast their nets closer to the shore as the water was clean and made it easier for fish to survive and breed.
The pollution has drastically reduced the number of fish in the lake and denied fishermen money in their pockets due to reduced catch.
The dirty waters and the increasing salinity of the lake have also led to the extinction of many species of fish, which were there in plenty a few years ago pointing to the seriousness of the problem.
According to the Kenya Maritime and Fisheries Research Institute, the health of the lake is deteriorating. In early 2000, there were about 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of fish catch. That has now declined by about 28 percent to about 115,000 tonnes. Waste from the industries along the lake, untreated sewerage and widespread practice of open defecation has and continues to contaminate the lake.
There are industries including the East African Breweries Limited and Equator Bottlers, Kibos Sugar, and the Kisumu County-owned Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company Ltd that have been blamed for routinely failing to meet the standards set by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) for treating their waste before releasing it to the sewer line.
Based on the investigative piece, it is clear that human activities contribute close to eight percent of the pollution experienced.
The local communities, the national and county governments as well as regional and international bodies should come together to identify both short and long-term solutions to the problem. Indeed, if pollution continues, we will have no safe water to use in the next few years.
The communities around the lake must protect the rivers that feed the lake by ensuring that their activities such as the use of dangerous pesticides, chemicals in mining as well as open defecation are addressed.
The government through the Nema must tighten its enforcement to ensure that the industries meet the standards by only releasing wastes which have been treated and they should revoke the licences of those industries, which do not meet the laid down standards.
Similarly, concerned county governments should come up with behaviour change campaigns to sensitise the communities on the responsible use of the lake and clean up initiatives to obviate further deterioration.
The media have done a good job by highlighting the problem but more needs to be done by both the mainstream and the local language TV as well as radio stations to educate and create awareness on the dangers of polluting the lake.
Edward Cedric Opany, Development communication specialist.