KAMPALA. Dark water with visible particles thrust through Nakivubo channel down into Murchison Bay in Luzira, southwest of Kampala. Just a few metres away into Lake Victoria, an algal bloom covers part of Africa’s largest fresh water lake.
Nakivubo, an open waste and storm channel, has its source at Makerere Hill, north of Kampala city. The channel then moves around populated slums, downtown markets and industrial; carrying waste from all these places to the lake.
The algae, according to a report by the Ministry of Water and Environment, The Wetland Atlas for Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono, released last year, is as a result of these wastes going into the lake without filtration by wetlands.
Wetlands such as Lubigi, the 5.29-kilometre square Nakivubo wetland that covers most parts of Nakawa, Bugolobi, Mpanga and Muyenga hills, and Inner Murchison Bay wetlands are heavily degraded, making them incapacitated to carry out their functions.
“The water in the channel is highly polluted due to the discharge of untreated and partially treated wastewater and also solid waste [74 per cent of which is biodegradable]. The shoreline of [Murchison Bay] is dotted with numerous industries that discharge wastewater into the environment,” the report reads in part.
“Research shows elevated levels of biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids, chemical oxygen demand, total nitrogen, nitrates and others as a result of the high organic load, some of which do not comply with recommended levels stipulated by the national environment wastewater discharge standards of 1999,” the government report adds.
Wetlands, on top of acting as homes for different living organisms, also act as a filter and store of water before it reaches lakes and rivers.
Away from wetland degradation and the city’s pollution, another thing that is dealing a heavy blow to the lake is cutting down of forests around it.
An analysis of Kalangala landscape by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), an island within Lake Victoria, presents a worrying situation in the management of forests there.
With oil palm development projects flourishing in Kalangala District on Ssese Islands and other outlying islands such as Bukasa, Funve, Bubenbe and Bunyama, and Buvuma Island, the lake is at the losing end.
More than 3,600 hectares of pristine forest, NAPE says, were cleared to make way for at least 7,000 hectares of palm oil growing.
Before Kalangala started growing palm oil, the Island district had more than 221 kilometres of tropical forests representing 49 per cent of total area cover and a good number of healthy wetlands.
“This is in addition to unprecedented forest degradation through logging to heat vegetable palm boilers,” a report by NAPE analysis report read in part.
According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), forests, among other things, “also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change”. They also influence rainfall formation, which feeds into the lakes and rivers.
As the population grows and many people continue to open new fields for agriculture, the banks of Lake Victoria have not been spared.
Although no one is allowed to dig in the radius of 200 metres to the lake; this law has been often violated.
“The more people dig into the banks, the lake suffers from siltation and this has a negative impact on fish stocks,” Mr Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE executive director said.
As more people move into permanent houses, the demand for lake sand keeps surging. For Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts, most of the sand used is excavated from Lake Victoria shorelines.
The expansive Lwera wetland on Kampala-Masaka Highway, which stretches about 20 kilometres, and a major water catchment area for Lake Victoria, has suffered on this front.
Last year, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Parliament had to intervene to stop sand mining in Lwera, a move they said was to protect the lake but also the highway from sinking in as dredgers had dung near the road.
Plastics and kaveera
In her Budget speech about seven years ago, then Finance minister, Syda Bbumba, said government would, through new taxation policies, prevent the importation, manufacture and use of polythene bags that are less than 30 microns. Efforts to implement this law in 2015, however, hit a snag with ministries fighting each other. Today, kaveera continues to block channels and then flow into lakes and rivers.
With such activities going on and around the lake, many media houses including the BBC, have termed Lake Victoria, a “dying” one. However, Dr Anthony Taabu-Munyaho, the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute,(NaFIRRI), executive director, disagrees with.
Dr Taabu says a dying lake cannot continue to produce fish worth billions of dollars for the three countries.
“The lake is 68,800 km², that area being talked about is the initial areas of the lake, a small part of the lake. When you go into open part of the lake, the water is very clear,” Dr Taabu said.
“A dying lake cannot produce fish to tune of a million tonne caught in Lake Victoria. You cannot get fish to that tune from a dying lake. That is propaganda from people fighting the economy,” he added, acknowledging though that parts of the lake shoreline indeed have been polluted. These are however areas where fish breeds from.
Early this month, NaFIRRI released a survey that indicated the biggest fish stock recovery in 12 years, pushing Ugandan authorities to consider reopening some of the fish processing factories next year.
The most commercial fish species in the lake ---Nile perch, has increased by 30 per cent and so did the haplochromines stock or nkeje, according to Status of Fish Stocks In Lake Victoria 2017 survey report.
The report was done by NaFIRRI, Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) (Kenya), and Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute while Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization, which conducts independent stock monitoring surveys in the lake every year, coordinated the survey.
Water body now a toilet
Speaking at the African Great Lakes Conference in Entebbe, Wakiso District recently, Dr Medard Modesta, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a charitable environmental organisation, regional manager, said Lake Victoria, like other lakes in the region, is facing unprecedented pollution from settlers who have turned them into toilets. Factories and agricultural activities have too silted the lakes, she added.
Dr Modesta added that governments have to act urgently and regulate the said activities if the future of the lakes are to be guaranteed.
Uganda, like the rest of the countries, has already paid the price through the declining fish stocks over the past years.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries figures show that Uganda has lost more than one million jobs due to the dwindling fish stocks as more than 10 fish processing factories have closed over the past five years.
“We have done a number of surveys, [which have revealed that] when fishermen go to the lakes, everything is done from there,” Dr Modesta said in reference to fishermen easing themselves in the lakes.
“Most of the water users of these lakes use it for everything and there is an aspect of communicable diseases. How do we handle those when our settlements are not well arranged?” she added.
The conference, which drew different stakeholders on Lake conservation, was spearheaded by the African Great Lakes initiative led by TNC, a global conservation organisation.
At the same event, Mr Colin Apse from TNC, announced that MacArthur Foundation had given $500,000 (about Shs1.8 billion) grant to the African Great Lakes Conservation Fund to finance projects that address sustainable use of the resources.