, KISUMU, Kenya, Oct 6 – Walking along the shores of Lake Victoria is no longer as pleasurable as it used to be a few years back for someone seeking a calm and relaxing moment.
This is because of the encroachment that has taken place on the beaches of this second largest fresh water lake in the world especially on the side of Lwang’i beach located just about 300 metres from the town. A car wash business is as conspicuous as the raw sewage flowing into the lake.
“We no longer get our fish from this lake because it is not as sweet as it used to be,” says Caroline Sharon Omondi who runs one of the eateries located about 10 metres from the shores of the lake.
“The quality has been affected by the raw sewage flowing into the lake from the town and car washing that takes place here which pours a lot of dirt and oil into the lake,” she adds.
However, the director of quality assurance and marketing at the Ministry of Fisheries, Okumu Makogola says the quality of fish at the lake is monitored on a quarterly basis since 1997 to check levels of heavy metals and pesticides but the results have never indicated levels that are harmful to human health.
“We are confident that the fish here is safe for human consumption and I can assure the public that any issues relating to pollution in the lake are being handled by the different lead agencies,” Mr Makogola said in an interview with Capital News.
Despite the obvious pollution, competition amongst the eateries at the lake’s shores is quite obvious. Patrick, an employee of one of the food kiosks says the fish they prepare is from Lake Victoria.
“But most of it we get from Usenge and Yimbo. We can’t get enough from here but I am not sure whether it is because of the pollution,” he says.
Those in the car wash business feel they are not entirely to blame for the pollution taking place at the lake.
“People say that those of us who wash cars here are the ones polluting the lake but it is not so because there is raw sewage flowing here and with the juakali business in town when it rains the dirt is swept into the lake,” says Joseph Otieno who has been washing cars here since 1999.
The father of two says he is employed by a youth group that operates the business and this manual job is his only source of livelihood.
“We have three groups here that own the car wash- there is the freedom car wash, Ramogi and umoja,” Otieno explains as he splashes water from a bucket on a grey Toyota he is cleaning.
Kennedy Owino appreciates that there is a lot of pollution at the lake but thinks it is not because of the car wash business. The business is what has fed him and his family of four for the last seven years.
“There are those customers who are happy when they see their cars submerged in the lake to clean and there is no vehicle that can be brought here when it is discharging oil because the ones we clean are Public Service and personal vehicles,” Owino says.
“They just carry food stuffs and when we wash it flows into the lake and you find a lot of fish there. If you came to fish here now,” he says pointing at the area next to the car wash, “you would find lots of fish than deep inside.”
And the Municipal Council of Kisumu which is charged with licensing businesses has come to their defense saying the said pollution is not scientifically proven.
“The car wash business at the shores of the lake is operating illegally but I have been in office for only one and a half years so there is nothing much I could have done within that period,” Kisumu Mayor Sam Okello told Capital News.
“All I can say is that we have a development programme and World Bank is funding it but the car wash is not to blame for the pollution,” Mr Okello added.
Director of Compliance at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Benjamin Langwen, however insists it is within the mandate of the Municipal Council of Kisumu to ensure the car wash does not operate. He says if the council does not act on stopping the pollution immediately, NEMA will do it and then bill the Council of Kisumu.
“It just came to our attention last week about the rampant car washing along the lake and it seems as though the pollution is not a priority to the Municipal Council of Kisumu. The council is supposed to designate a proper washing base so that they (business people) don’t go back and if they do they it becomes an enforcement issue and they need to be prosecuted,” says Mr Langwen.
He says the Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company also has a fair share of blame because of the sewage discharge.
“Their effluent has to be properly treated before it is discharged to the aquatic environment with specific consideration to nitrogen and phosphate and this will require a shift from the current conventional systems of treatment which might not be able to remove nitrogen and phosphate,” he says.
Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company Managing Director David Onyango however says their waste is properly treated before it is discharged and therefore the company has nothing to do with the pollution.
“This is conventional way of thinking,” he told Capital News in response to the claims.
“The problem is upstream where there is the Obunga informal settlement and a lot of Chang’aa brewing (local brew) takes place in the area. There is also a lot of fish filleting that takes place there and the waste is thrown into the lake,” he says.
Mr Langwen explains that the pollution has also led to the come back of the water hyacinth as a result of the increased micro nutrients.
“There is a lot of nitrogen and phosphate which propagate the growth of water hyacinth and these micro nutrients can be got from raw sewage and agricultural run off. There have been very many commissions formed for conservation of Lake Victoria and instead of controlling the pollution from the source, some were attempting to remove the water hyacinth and I don’t think that is the solution,” says the Director of Compliance.
“The solution is to ensure the water hyacinth does not get the required food or nutrients to propagate them and the problem will end there,” he adds.
The water hyacinth is a deadly weed scientifically known as Eichhornia crassipes. It started appearing in the lake from the early nineties blocking various parts of the lake.
Scientists say the water hyacinth has been in Africa on the River Nile since the 1870s but was not reported in Lake Victoria until 1989. The problems associated with water hyacinth however did not become apparent in Lake Victoria until the early 90s. Its rapid spread is blamed on the emission of untreated industrial effluents into the lake.