Staring forlornly at the dirt green water that repeatedly beats the shores of Lake Victoria at the Port Bell landing site in Luzira, a Kampala suburb, Ddamulira Karoli shakes his head and finally shares his thoughts.
“The water you see here cannot be used for even bathing. The major use of it right now is just boat rides,” says the chairperson of traders at Port Bell, a resigned tone conspicuous in his voice.
Over the years, the water around the shores of Lake Victoria has become increasingly more polluted, especially in areas adjacent to factories, channels snaking their way into the lake from urban areas, or basically places inhabited by human beings.
The pollution has reached a point where, according to another resident of the area, Simon Kalule, who does lake sand mining, people who either live by the lakeside or earn their livelihood from the water and its surroundings are directly affected.
“When you return from the Ssese Islands where we mine sand while feeling hungry, you cannot even have the morale to eat since the smell in the area is so toxic,” he lamented.
The stories surrounding the contamination of Lake Victoria waters near Port Bell paint a picture of a place that’s not just losing its luster, but one that’s dying a slow death by asphyxiation.
For instance, for several years now, local media in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have reported consistently about the dwindling fish stocks on Africa’s largest fresh water lake. Experts have attributed the falling fish stocks to over fishing, illegal fishing and pollution of the water.
In addition, according to locals who witness first-hand the effects of the pollution, even related industries such as tourism are beginning to feel the devastating effects of lake shores that are filthy and contaminated.
“There are local tourists who come here to see the major port of Uganda but we as traders do not have any opportunity to make sales. This is because they (tourists) think that we are dirty people here,” says Karoli.
What is the problem?
The senior environment inspector at National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Jennifer Kutesakwe, explains that the greening of water on Lake Victoria is caused by Algae which always grows during the dry season.
The water encyclopaedia defines “algae” the wide variety of different and dissimilar photosynthetic organisms that are generally microscopic. Depending on the species, algae can inhabit fresh or salty water.
“When the phosphates are abundant, the aquatic plants grooming adds up, thus resulting in the greening of water,” she explains.
Ms Kutesakwe adds that while the greening is caused by algae, it is also a result of poor waste management by most industries, hotels and locals.
“If you moved around Kampala, some of these hotels connect their drainages direct to the Nakivubo channel which goes straight to the lake,” she says.
In addition, according to Kutesakwe, the influx of people around the lake shores is another reason for the worsening situation of the sanitation of water on the lake.
The Public Relations Officer at National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), Samuel Apedel, admits that the problem is overwhelming and it requires a joint effort from all stakeholders and locals.
Apedel says the greatest challenge to the management of the environment in Uganda is the massive cutting of trees and clearing of swamps for development that many people engage in, which in turn has led to increased dry spells. “Honestly, what people have forgotten is that the trees which are cut down are the heart for the survival of the environment, which includes water,” he states.
Apedel says that the problem on Lake Victoria calls for a combined responsibility from all stakeholders, especially leaders and locals directly affected by the effects of environmental degradation. He says people should learn to at least plant a tree in weekly basis or at any anniversary or event in order to, as well as protect the water catchment areas around lakes.
“If people decide for example, plant a tree in every birthday or during any party, that would cause a great change to the environment,” he states.
Kutesakwe reveals that all environmental management stakeholders in the country have created a joint Environmental Pollution Task Force. It is composed of the Ministry of Water and Environment, NWSC, NEMA, Kampala Capital City Authority and Cleaner Water Production. This task force monitors pollution in four sites around Lake Victoria on a daily basis.