Lake Victoria is bringing ashore more trouble for residents and business owners than ever before.
Scientists have for decades warned of the impact of climate variability like the current increased rainfall that is unusual.
The impact is being felt, especially around Lake Victoria which is shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
“The level is going up. We cannot stop the water. We can only manage it at Jinja. Move to other areas if you are near the shores. Because even Lakes Kyoga, Albert and River Nile, the water levels are also increasing as we release the water from Jinja,” Dr Callist Tindimugaya, the commissioner for water resources planning and regulation at the Ministry of Water and Environment, said.
“It is eroding shorelines, altering ecosystems and causing flooding and economic damage,” Prof Raphael Kapiyo, an environmental scientist in Kenya, told the Standard Media.
In Mwanza, the port city of Tanzania, the communities at the shores are equally worried.
A fisherman told Mwanainchi newspaper that they need an explanation from experts why the water levels have continued to increase since the beginning of the year.
“Water has always been moving towards people’s businesses around here. I have been here for 40 years, the case was different 20 years ago. It is very serious. Until one studies the situation keenly, it is very difficult to know what’s going on,” Mr John Masanja, a fisherman in Mwanza, said. In Uganda, Lake Victoria has only one outlet through the Owens Falls Dam in Jinja, but this is being affected by sudds too, disrupting electricity generation at the dam.
On Sunday, President Museveni, in his address on updates about Covid-19, asked people who built or are cultivating along the Lake Victoria shores to vacate peacefully before the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) forces them out.
The lake bursting its shoreline appears a regional problem for the countries that share it.
In March, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported that: “Villagers were fleeing their homes following the rare natural phenomenon last witnessed in 1963. Their homes, livestock and farms have been swept away and some farms submerged. The rising water levels have also affected the lake’s shoreline, sweeping through several beach hotels in Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya counties.”
For more than four decades, environmentalists have been worried that water levels on the lake would decrease due to the construction of many hydropower dams such as Isimba on the River Nile downstream.
However, the reverse has happened, with torrential rains increasing the water levels and submerging many settlements and commercial settings along the shores which have had to adapt or relocate.
The world has always talked more about climate change than global warming.
Scientists describe climate variability as a change that occurs within smaller timeframes such as a month, season or a year and climate change considers changes that occur over longer periods of time, for instance 30 years or more.
Most users of weather information are unable to tell whether this is a climate variability or climate change which activists have said the world has hurt nature by indiscriminate destruction of forests, reclaiming swamps or polluting air and water for economic gain.
At local beaches such as Lido, White Sand and Protea Hotel in Entebbe and Speke Resort Munyonyo, among others, their sandy shoreline has been submerged in water halting any holiday beach sporting activities.
Although the beach management declined to speak to Daily Monitor, the rise water levels has affected them. Many guests had deserted the lakeside area and moved to the upper drier part of the premises.
KK Beach in Ggaba suburb has been submerged. There is no more beach sand, the kitchen, dining and pool table areas have all been submerged.
The water has moved forward about 35 metres beyond where it used to stop previously.
Mr Christopher Ahimbisibwe, the manager at Spenah Beach in Entebbe, said he can no longer boast of having sand at the beach.
Despite the slanting landscape, the water levels have continued to rise up to the beach sand. Even the watchtower for monitoring swimmers at the beach has been fully submerged. It now sits about 7 metres into the lake.
“The water level is continuing to rise and there is nothing I can do. One side of the wall at the protection zone has fallen into the water. Even after the lockdown, I don’t know how we will continue the business. I am just home now, social distancing,” Mr Ahimbisibwe said.
He asked the Meteorological Department to have a comprehensive forecast because they do not know how long the rain will continue.
Most parts of the East African region have continued to receive heavy rains from the Horn of Africa, Central Africa, Rwanda to DR Congo and Tanzania causing flooding in many areas.
Dr Tindimugaya said they are worried about safety of the hydro-electricity dam due to the moving suds or floating islands which have invaded the power generation dam along the River Nile.
“Lake Victoria is a shallow lake and the water that comes there is from rainfall but also rivers and streams that flow from around the lake. The water that comes from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania directly enters the lake. There are also other rivers such as Kagera from Burundi and Rwanda which flow in,” Dr Tindimugaya said.
He blamed the rising water levels on people who have built in the protective zones of the lake and now water is reclaiming its place in the environment.
He advises those around the lakes to listen to President Museveni’s advice and relocate because more water is being released from Owens Falls Dam in Jinja, adding that flooding may get worse.
“People have built all around the lake because the level had gone down previously. People encroached on the protection zone. The lake ideally is supposed to be having 300 metres around it as a protection zone, but because people have built all around, the water is coming back to reclaim its position,” Dr Tindimugaya said.
“We have allowed 2,000 cubic metres per second of water to be released from the previous 1,000 in February so that the water level does not cause problems to the dam. Now we also have the increased water levels causing the floating islands. We have a number of floating islands that are being uprooted by the rise in water levels. The waters coming in high speed from rivers such as Kagera make the land to float and the wind blows them to the only outlet in Jinja,” he added.
Dr Tindimugaya said the water levels will continue to rise if the rains continue.
Expert speaks out
Dr Callist Tindimugaya, the water resource specialist at the Ministry of Water and Environment, said Eskom, a power generation company in Jinja, could be allowed to release about 3,000 cubic metres per second, the highest they can allow in worst case scenarios to stabilise Lake Victoria levels but are worried about the people down stream. “We are releasing the water but we also do not want to substantially affect economic activities downstream. If we have to, we can increase a little bit more. But people are now crying that they are being affected by the water levels we are releasing because they are also in the wrong place,” Dr Tindimugaya said. He asked those around the shores to move to safer zones and advised people to respect the protection zones to save their livelihoods.