Experts call for community management of lakes

Updated Friday, May 04 2012;

Proper management of the world’s lakes is critical in ensuring sustainable use.
With nearly 90 per cent of the world’s usable water being drawn from lakes and reservoirs, scientists are warning that continued degradation of these water resources could spell doom for a rising global population, hence the need for greater involvement by communities around them in their management.
Degradation of the world’s lakes has been identified as a serious global water resource issue, given that they are critical elements of the water cycle, sustain aquatic biodiversity and provide livelihoods for those living around them. Biodiversity refers to the variation of different life forms within a given ecosystem (all living and non-living things in a given area that interact with one another).
Among issues highlighted at the East African Great Lakes Observatory workshop held in Nairobi last week, were global experiences in Integrated Lake Basin Management (ILBM), fisheries and wetlands management, sensitivity of East African lakes to climate change, consequences of armed conflict to environmental degradation, and building community awareness for ecosystem services.
Political jurisdictions:
At least 28 lakes including Victoria, Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, Chad, Malawi and Tanganyika, which formed the basis for discussions at the forum, were part of a study that resulted in publication of an International Lake Environment Committee (ILEC) report on management of lakes and their basins for sustainable use. The report, which includes practical lessons learnt from management efforts of lake basins around the world, is cited as a reference point for lake and reservoir managers in development of Lake Basin management policies and their implementation. Lakes used in the study represent a wide range of climatic conditions, sizes, problems, political jurisdictions and management challenges.
University of Nairobi lecturer Eric Odada says while governments and ministries have long managed lakes, it has become increasingly important to involve communities living around them in their management.
“We are stressing the need to consult and involve communities in management because there is a lot that they know about these lakes,” says Prof Odada, a lecturer in the Geology department.
According to Odada, changes in biodiversity have also made it necessary for global interventions in managing lakes for the common good of all nations.
“One country cannot do it alone. We may be seeing problems affecting these lakes now but how bad will the situation be in say 2030, when Kenya is supposed to be industrialised? What strategies are we putting in place and what do we need to do to prevent further degradation of these water resources?” he poses.
ILEC Chairman Masahisa Nakamura, identified institutions, policies, participation, technology, information and financing as critical pillars of governance in the use of an Integrated Lake Basin Management (ILBM) mechanism. ILBM refers to an approach for achieving sustainable management of lakes and reservoirs through gradual, continuous and holistic improvement of basin governance. The approach is fashioned on the basis that achievement in managing these water resources faces a serious global challenge, hence the importance of having effective organisations, expanding the circle of involvement to include communities living around lake basins, and dissemination of research findings for the proper management of lakes.
“When we talk about lakes, its not just about the body of water alone but the entire basin,” said Prof Nakamura.
Nakamura says proper planning and governance remain key elements in the good management of lake basins.
Although management requirements include managing lakes across jurisdictions, managing land and water together and introducing multiple programmes and policies, these may be impeded by competing needs among different jurisdictions and complexities in implementation of multiple policies and programmes.
FlamingoNet’s Jackson Raini says while lakes Naivasha and Nakuru have been heavily impacted by degradation, there exist common threats to all of Kenya’s lakes. These include; overfishing, introduction of alien fish species, changes in salinity, erosion and siltation, industrial discharges, release of agro chemicals, excessive withdrawal and diversion of water, and climate change.
Shrinkages in Lakes Chad and Baringo have partly been attributed to excessive water withdrawal for irrigation. Elsewhere in Lake Baringo, large loads of sediment resulting from overgrazing near the lake have also worsened its already decreasing depths. The shrinkage of Lake Chad, once one of Africa’s largest, has led to a reduction in fish catches, fewer resting areas for migratory birds and forced migration of populations, which has in some cases resulted in territorial disputes.
“Lake Turkana is also steadily getting impacted because of projects such as construction of the Gibe dam on River Omo. The lake has also not had an efficient scientific study conducted on it,” says Raini.
Proponents of the Gibe hydroelectricity power project, argue that it will more than double the current capacity of about 800Megawatts, enough to meet Ethiopia’s domestic power needs and export the commodity to neighbouring countries, including Kenya. Environmentalists are however critical of the project which they argue will have adverse environmental and social effects, and herald the lake’s extinction.
Wetlands policy
Other typical problems facing lakes across the globe are weed infestation, and nutrients from fish cages, which enter lakes from excreta of the caged fish. This can promote growth of aquatic weeds.
In what could be considered lessons that Kenya could learn from Uganda in management of wetlands, Frank Kansiime from Makerere University’s Institute of Environmental and Natural Resources, showed how governments can take the lead in shaping policy for proper management of water resources.
Wetlands in Uganda cover about 13 per cent of the country’s total area.
“Once the Government realised their importance, it slapped a ban on activities in these areas until a policy was put in place,” says Kansiime, of the East African nation which has a Wetlands Inspection Division.
Although Kenya’s new Constitution recognises protection of the environment there still lacks a well co-ordinated national wetlands policy, which could enhance their management.
Worldwide, wetlands occupy about six per cent of the earth’s surface. In Kenya they occupy about 3-4 per cent, which could rise to nearly six per cent in the rainy season. In Uganda, the Nakivubo wetland located in Kampala provides a key service in wastewater treatment, while the Nabajuzzi wetland is critical to water supply in neighbouring Masaka town. Absence of the Nakivubo wetland would see the Government spend at least $1.7million per year in providing tertiary treatment

Source: East African Standard