5 November 2012

Uganda: Water Hyacinth Re-Invades Lake Victoria

Photo: New Vision
Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria

The future of over 30 million people whose livelihood depends on Lake Victoria hangs in balance following a resurgence of the water hyacinth on the region's main inland water body.

The news comes at a time when Lake Victoria is already attacked by other threats such as overfishing and pollution that have reduced fish stocks, jobs and revenue.

The weed has from the early nineties blocked fish landing sites and communal water points along the lakeshore. It is highly disastrous to the lake for its ability to cut oxygen supply thereby causing death to aquatic life mainly fish.

It also forms a thick carpet-like layer of plant causing difficulties to transportation, as well as hydroelectric power generation.

The weed has been rebuilding slowly at most shores until recently when it reached levels causing anxiety among water experts.

The weed has covered almost five acres of water in Kisumu, Kenya. Water at Lwangini beach in Kisumu is currently under the hyacinth which has halted fishing and other activities there.

Efforts by members of Agulu, a community-based organization (CBO), to manually remove the weed from Lwangini beach have been futile as it continues to spread to other areas.

"The water weed is resurging and the situation is neither good in the Uganda or Tanzanian shoreline," said Emily Arayo, the regional spokesperson of the Lake Victoria Environment Management (LVEMPII) watch project.

In Uganda, areas around Port Bell in Luzira, and Kasensero landing site in Rakai district are the worst hit so far, according to Peter Kimbowa, the project's coordinator.

"The weed has come back and it is very strong; in Kenya, people are now switching jobs from fishing," said Kimbowa. "Even the quality of water is affected. Unless we address the problem quickly, we are likely to suffer the same effects we faced in the mid-1990s."

The water hyacinth became prominent in late-1980s and mid-1990s with its impact mostly felt in 1995 when the weed covered 90% of the Lake Victoria shoreline.

During the period, giant mats covering hundreds of hectares could be found in inner Murchison Bay, Wazimenya Bay, and Gobero Bay.

However, after a concerted effort between the three East African countries as well as the international community, the weed, in 1997, started declining until in 1999 when it almost became extinct.

The campaign involved a combination of mechanical, manual and biological control methods.

Kimbowa attributes its resurgence to negligence. "Those concerned failed to sustain the efforts to control the weed. The machines were dumped in Kasensero and Jinja. It's as if everybody is waiting for outsiders to help us again."

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