Thursday, April 18, 2024
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DAVID MAFABI: Time bomb in the waiting as huge layers of silt destroy Lake Victoria

MBALE – Sometime this year, I visited one of the beaches along the banks of Lake Victoria during the New Year celebrations.

This is the same beach where many revelers including myself used to go swimming in the early 1990s. By then, the water was bluish, was transparent and was clean without any impurities.

And today, the beach is a shadow of its past and so is Lake Victoria as a whole; the water is greenish, clogged with polythene bags, pieces of wood, used plastics, pieces of cloth, with a bad stench and is more of an unpurified sewerage collection.

Out of curiosity and as an Environment Journalist for more than 20 years, I hired a speed boat and made several rounds on the Lake right from Entebbe to Gaba Beach. I noticed that all the swamps that once acted as water catchment areas, that used to clean the water before releasing it into the Lake have been cleared for human activity including shoreline encroachment, degradation depleting vital flora, fauna while at the same time there are uncontrolled well-constructed channels that collect dirty water from Kampala direct into the Lake.

The Nakivubo channel and the Bugolobi wet land that was home to several species of papyrus known to sieve dirty water are no more. their space is now the hub of buildings surrounded with well-done drainages that carry with them sewerage and all the pollutants from Kampala and beyond.

Most of the activities at the banks of the lake have been the result of dumping of stones and murram. In fact most of the buildings are now competing for space with the Lake.

And who are these people that are so powerful to the extent of destroying the Lake with impunity? Where is the National Environment Management Authority? Why are they mute when the future of the lake is at stake?

In this country Uganda, the environment is one area that largely survives on the mercy of a few, not even the government is doing much, most of the focus seems to rotate around development even if it comes at the expense of nature.

The few organisations that are mandated or a funded to protect the environment are either in bed with the government or investors leaving the environment to determine its own fate. 

By and large, I was forced to shift my office to the showers of Lake Vitoria to enable me pick first hand data for this article. I would brave the rains to monitor the volumes of water coming in from the drainages.

I watched in shock as the dirty drainage water carried with it stones, pieces of wood, dead animals, domestic refuse, broken glasses, plastics, polythene bags, soil, building materials, metals among others.

All these are carried direct and deposited into Lake Victoria as the sieving points are not big enough to block the entry into the lake. Even if they did, it is only the physical items that are relatively regulated; the silt from dry land goes direct into the lake. That is the crux of my write up.

At the end of the rain, I was able to observe how dirty the lake was and imagined how much silt was carried and dumped into the lake. Silt refers to the dirt, soil, or sediment that is carried and deposited into the water body.

After a few weeks of watching large volumes of silt, I noticed the waters would clear on a sunny day. I thought the silt would be drained and taken by the current to the water banks or towards Jinja and then into the river Nile. However, when I eventually stepped foot into the lake, I realised that the silt settles down when the lake is relatively calm.

Am not asserting that all silt is bad, some silt in water is normal and healthy but the truth is that the volumes deposited into Lake Victoria are excess. Many additional tons of silt finds its way to the lake mainly during rainy seasons every year, negatively impacting water quality.

This situation is negatively impacting ecosystems in many ways more so the aquatic life amd excessive silt clogs gills, and smothers eggs and nests. It can bury habitat aquatic insects need for survival, which impacts organisms up the food chain that eat these insects for survival.

I observed that the entire water bed is now slippery as all the sand in the lake has either been dug out or covered by the huge mass of silt.

In effect, I can say with time, the Lake will no longer remain fresh or deep as most of its bed is and or will be covered with huge layers of cement hard silt. Pretty sure the government will have to spend a lot of money in de-silting Lake Victoria for its survival.

I also was able to notice that the aquatic plants in the lake are at the verge of being submerged by the silt thus a decrease in needed dissolved oxygen for photosynthesis.

It was evident that the important components of aquatic habitat, which native aquatic species rely on for survival, have also been altered by siltation and these included the amount of light, the temperature, depth, and flow of water.

The situation has been made worse by pollutants like fertilizers, pathogens, pesticides, and heavy metals. Soon Uganda will have to rely on imported fish as our own lake can no longer provide a safe haven for fish production and survival.

When I contacted the NEMA, the agency responsible for supervising environmental activities, the answer I got was that they do not have the capacity to stop silt from going into the lake as they are underfunded.

It is very disappointing that all focus is on the physical pollutants like plastics, polythene bags and the water weed and no attention has been given to silt.

Some of the officers were even shocked to learn that there were massive silt deposits in the lake. So is there anything any one can do to protect the lake from silt, for now the answer is in the negative yet my observation shows it is a time bomb that is about to explode.

Take it leave it, with time, the volumes of water in Lake Victoria are going to reduce as their bed is now clogged with large volumes of silt. We all know the importance of Lake Victoria to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Egypt which now calls for the intervention of the International Community to intervene.

If now action is taken now, Lake Victoria will continue busting its banks as its bed can longer hold large volumes of water especially during rainy seasons. 

Seeing how much of Lake Victoria space has been encroached on by the likes of Sudhir Ruparelia for constructions of resorts, I am left wondering if the Ugandan Government is bothered about the plight of Lake Victoria.

I also asked NEMA officials if the Ruparelia group was above the law but I was told he follows procedure for formality. The man has claimed several hectares of the lake by dumping soil into the lake in breach of conditions of the Environment and Social Impact Assessment Certificate that was issued to his company to guide the development project

Ii is crystal clear that Lake Victoria used to be Africa’s largest and the world’s second-largest fresh water lake but that is all in the past but this size has been compromised by the very powerful people who have more respect for money and not the environment.

I also know for a fact that Lake Victoria pollution is not being done by Uganda alone but I think each country sharing Lake Victoria has a role to play. The 26,828-square-mile mass of the lake has since dwindled largely due to encroachment of the lake banks and siltation at the base of the Lake.

I also have information that many organisations and local leaders have on several occasions petitioned Parliament to intervene in the rampant human activities on the banks of Lake Victoria but that nothing has been done.

And commercial activities like Rosebud Flower Farm Ltd have also come into existence by dumping soil in a wetland where Lake Victoria would occasionally store is excess waters off the shores of Lake Victoria.

As environmentalists we need to note that when silt settles at the base of the Lake, it becomes harder than cement, it is hardened.

There is need for worry because the lake is in danger of “dying from the bottom,” as it has a uniform displacement of water and if it remains unattended to, the lake will in a nearby future become so shallow making it hard for the fish to survive.

It will also curtail water transport and cease being a tourist site from which this country [Uganda] gets revenue.

Today the silt is fighting the survival of the lake from down and human activities are reducing the boundaries of the lake, this should be a wakeup call to the NRM Government.

The author, David Mafabi is a Ugandan veteran journalist

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