Kampala. The Lake Victoria water at Ggaba landing site looks murky with granular dark particles. It is 8:30am and fishermen here are offloading the previous night’s catch from their boats.
Fish at the landing site, owing to its proximity to the city, has a ready market.
However, the lake, the source of fish, is presenting fishermen with unprecedented storms threatening their lives and livelihood.
A study by McGill University in Canada in collaboration with the National Fisheries Resource Research Institute (NAFIRI), a copy of which this paper has seen, indicates that climate change is taking a toll on Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake and chief reservoir of the River Nile.
NAFIRI is a semi-autonomous Public Agricultural Research Institute in Uganda.
The research titled, assessing the adaptive capacity of fishing communities to climate change in Lake Victoria basin, was done between 2016 and 2018. It covered the five landing sites of Lambu, Ggolo and Nakiga in Lake Victoria and two other landing sites on Lake Nabugabo, Bbaale and Kaziru.
Lake Nabugabo is a small freshwater lake which also acts as a catchment for Lake Victoria.
Now the research findings indicates that fishermen on the lake are in danger of unpredictable winds and frequent thunderstorms sweeping across the water bodies.
Research findings and separate accounts by fishermen indicate that the winds are changing directions and cannot be predicted. The sudden and strong winds, the study indicates, is causing boats to capsize.
“Many fishers stated that there are more unusual patterns of wind with more sudden storms arising over the lake, endangering lives, and the directions of the winds were not following the usual patterns,” Dr Elizabeth Nyboer, the lead researcher, said.
“Climate change is having a negative effect on people’s livelihoods. During the drought period, fish catch decreases but at the same time crops in the gardens fail. This decreases their incomes, food security, and overall stability of livelihood,” she added.
Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu, the State Minister for Environment, said the findings are not surprising since they have known for long that Lake Victoria is a shallow water body, and with increasing temperatures, such changes are bound to happen. She said there are communities living around Lake Victoria that have reported such changes.
“The areas in Busoga sub-region neighbouring Lake Victoria are experiencing very strong winds. This is something we had predicted. That the lake is going to be more violent and more accidents are going to occur,” Dr Kitutu said.
She attributed the changes in part to destruction of wetlands and forests around the lake, but also the global warming as a result of pollution of the atmosphere.
“Wetlands, which are being destroyed, make communities more resilient. The way God created earth is that we are not supposed to have floods, but we are having them. Whenever we see floods, it means something is not right. We only have to protect wetlands and forests to save ourselves,” she added.
Dr Kitutu said the winds have, in some areas, destroyed houses and crops and people turn to central government for help in order to rebuild their lives. This assistance, the minister said, disrupts national planning.
Mr Sunday Kigozi, a fisherman in Kalangala District, said winds are so unpredictable and some fishermen have lost their lives in accidents as they go fishing on the lake.
“What winds do, they blow crocodiles to places which we thought were safe. You go to such places thinking there are no crocodiles only to get mauled,” Mr Kigozi said.
A fortnight ago, a crocodile struck Mr Fulaya Ddumba at Bufumira, an island in Kalangala. He survived, but lost a leg.
Mr Kigozi said winds also make navigating the lake extremely difficult.
“We are having strong winds but we expect them to worsen in July and September. Those are known months when the lake is very violent,” he added.
Mr Dirisa Walusimbi, the chairman Ggaba Fish Protect Unit, said strong winds are sweeping the lake, but they serve as an early warning that the worst is yet to come.
“For the last two weeks, there has been a decrease in fish catch. When there are strong winds in the lake, fishermen cannot go to the lake,” Mr Walusimbi said.
Lake Victoria is the top shared water resource between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
The lake has more than 80 scattered but beautiful islands. These islands, home to striking wildlife, have become a major tourist attraction.
The islands also act as breeding areas for fish. Wetland destruction leaves the lake without protection and recharging mechanism which may threaten its existence.