With a surface area nearing the size of Southern Ireland, Lake Victoria is many things to many people; provider of transport, drinking water, somewhere to dump industrial waste, industrial fishing as well as local fishing, supporting East Africa’s wildlife and so on. It is becoming clear that the lake can no longer support the advancing population whilst being a casualty of pollution, drought, greed and miss-management. In short Lake Victoria is dying. This will have far reaching implication affecting rivers like the Nile, and other rivers and lakes connected to either Lake Victoria or the Nile.
East Africa has had a chequered history albeit one designed by the British. In the mid 1800’s John Speke accidentally came across Lake Victoria (then unnamed) and declared that it was the origins of the River Nile. He was later followed by Stanley and subsequently by British Rule. In less than 30 years England had taken the region and created Uganda and Kenya. And of course Tanzania (then Tanganyika) came under German ruler-ship. The destruction of the ecology of the region along side that of native population and culture had began. Vast prime forest areas were cleared to create tea plantations along side coffee, cotton and sugar. And in hot pursuit, came the Railways, directly to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria drew many admirers who came to see the abundant wild life of hippos, crocodiles and so on. Much was and is being gained from farming, fishing and mining of the riches around the region.
In present day Kenya, 30 million people have come to depend on the life giving force of Lake Victoria. But since the British introduced large predatory fish like the Perch in the 50’s the Lake has been subjected to great ecological calamity with the loss of native species. The Perch along with other large predatory fish have ensured a dramatic drop in native species (over 300) to the point where parts of the lake are dieing. The formation of algae, oxygen depletion, commercial fishing, Industrial pollution, bilharzias and typhoid has played a great part in effecting the livelihood of communities living around the lake. With the reduction of fish stock in the lake, the local fishermen have had to resort to abandoning traditional methods and are now fishing with large nets which have further ecological implications.
Advancing algae causing toxicity, decaying of plankton and depletion of oxygen in the water has also added concern for the future of the lake. Many experts note that the problem is not inherent within the lake only; there are outside factors that are contributing to its inability to stave off pollution that are locking down its natural filtration abilities. Multinationals alongside the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are to blame for the industrial pollution that is deposited into rivers that feed into the lake; mining residue (washing of gold etc) leave high traces of mercury as well as other metals such as lead and chromium.
The trouble is that the lake is shared by three countries, each in severe economical decline. Since the two large Dams were built to generate electricity at Kiira and Nalubaale, the lake has had a decline in its water level. Many are predicting that the population of native fish will die out in a few years and the lake will begin its decline, dry out and eventually die.