Uganda: Let's Get to Bottom of L. Victoria Fish Deaths

12 January 2021
editorial

Yesterday's splash on Monitor newspaper's front page touched on the lives of aquatic animals, human beings and the country's economy in many ways.

The mass death of fish on the continent's largest fresh water lake is something authorities and all of us ought to pay attention to.

We need to know what exactly is killing the fish in Lake Victoria and also if the substances - if any - are dangerous to human life.

Already, there are claims that some fishermen are treating the tragedy as though manna had fallen from heaven and were harvesting piles of fish from the shores for human consumption.

The development comes hardly a year since the Nation Media Group investigation showed that the water body that serves three East African countries was severely contaminated.

At the end of 2019, a team of NMG journalists from Uganda and Kenya, accompanied by scientists from University of Nairobi, did a study in different parts of the lake in Kenya and Uganda.

Led by Prof James Mbaria, the chairperson of the Department of Public Health and Pharmacology Technology at University of Nairobi, the team took 52 samples from 28 spots and found out that Lake Victoria and a number of rivers that either drain their waters from the lake or pour it into it are heavily contaminated with metals, pesticides and other microbial organisms that have adverse effects on human and aquatic life.

Fish, water and sediment samples indicated that they contained pesticides and other pollutants that are hazardous to human beings.

The National Environment Management Authority says preliminary investigations have ruled out poisoning. They have attributed this to a drop in levels of oxygen caused by the recent flooding and rising water levels that led to large masses of weeds submerged and sunk into the lake bed.

Whether the cause(s) is/are natural, poison or otherwise, we need to pay attention to the health of our lakes.

It should not be lost to us that this newspaper has on many occasions advocated for conservation of wetlands that are fast disappearing, especially in and around Kampala.

Lake Victoria's major problem has been the lack of filters for water it takes in, which leads to mass pollution in the lake.

We have glorified the work of investors and allowed them to set up factories without the required waste disposal mechanisms. Wetlands in Kampala and the surrounding areas have been degraded under the watch of authorities that should protect them.

Our demand is that results from the investigation should be made public and necessary steps put in place to stop a reoccurrence. The deaths, even if some communities claim are not new, should be probed to the very end.

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