Baltic expertise – shared with Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria, is the second largest freshwater lake in the world - around 70,000m2. However, the lake and its natural resources are environmentally threatened, together with the livelihoods of 40 million people living in its environs. Recent reports indicate that the lake is shrinking, by about 10cms every ten years.

Professor Lars Kristoferson, Secretary General of Sweden’s World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said, ‘The soil is worn out, and the region suffers from deforestation, very intense agriculture, population growth, industrialisation, mining, traffic and over-fishing. Pollution from nutrients is increasing, as are waterborne diseases, e.g. malaria. Poverty is becoming acute.’

An even bigger problem is the introduction of the Nile Perch at the end of the 1950s. This fish was supposed to be the basis of an export industry, but instead fisheries collapsed when the Perch ate smaller, indigenous species – an estimated 100 have disappeared. It has taken several decades for new fisheries to adjust to the impact of this.

Shared experiences

A two-year study of water and sanitation management in Kisumu, on the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria was completed in 2000 by scientists from Sweden’s Linkšping University and in Kenya, by the Lake Basin Development Authority, Moi University and the Bandaptai Laboratories in Homa Bay.

The aim was to analyse developments in the water sector to date and anticipate future need, particularly in light of a rapidly expanding population. As the WWF has networks both in the Lake Victoria and the Baltic Sea regions, Lars Kristoferson points out some similarities:

  • The Baltic Sea and Lake Victoria are shallow lakes with increased nutrient loads, pollution, overfishing, eutrophication etc.
  • States around the Baltic Sea started to cooperate in the 1970s within the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). Since the 1990s the brief has widened under Baltic 21, the agenda for which includes not only the marine environment, but also the development of sustainable social and environmental economies which must be taken into account.
  • Lake Victoria is beginning to use a catchment area approach similar to that covering the Baltic Sea.

Catchment approach

Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are partners in the East African Community (EAC), whose goal is to develop a combined approach to infrastructure development, scientific research, the management of human resources and a targeted zone of economic growth.

Cities fringing Lake Victoria are working together, in the same way as the Union of the Baltic Cities. Similarly, the ‘Coalition Clean Baltic’ – an association for environmental NGOs in northern Europe – is mirrored by ECOVIC, an initiative for the Lake Victoria region.

SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency is giving support long-term, providing legal and institutional framework support. It is anticipated that Norway will become a signatory.

However, to date there has been resistance against this new holistic approach. Lars Kristoferson said, ‘It’s important to get an acceptance on all levels, both among local residents and on the political level.’

More information about this collaboration will be highlighted at the Stockholm Water Symposium in August this year.

Other European partners include Denmark’s COWI, and the Danish Hydraulic Institute. Both are consultants to the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project in a $70M 18-month contract running from August 2000, equally funded by the World Bank and the Global Environment facility (GEF). Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have contributed an additional $7M.

Local initiatives

Meanwhile, householders on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, frustrated at waiting for municipal water supplies, have made their own arrangements – at least during the rainy season.

The majority of Kisumu residents live in the city suburbs in permanent or semi-permanent houses on small plots with dug latrines and if lucky, a well. Swedish scientists from Linkšping University are currently involved in a project on ecological sanitation together with the Kenyan universities and Osienala, Kenya’s environmental organisation.

The study covers two peri-urban areas in Kisumu, where small, private entrepreneurs and groups of householders have made efforts to take on the task of water supply, disposal of foul water and sanitation.

Water deficit

The availability of groundwater is sufficient during the wet season at the present level of extraction, but many wells dry up towards the end of the dry season.

If intensively exploited without adequate recharge, these aquifers may not sustain the population all the year round, but can satisfy water needs during the rainy season and a few months thereafter. About 90% of the rain not infiltrated into the groundwater constitutes an untouched water resource. To date, local residents do not reuse treated greywater for household purposes.

Pit latrines in each compound are often used by several families and in general are not well kept. While house owners can plan their own compound, they have little influence over latrines in neighbouring compounds. The distance between wells and latrines is often less than 10 meters – in some cases only 3 metres – thus adjacent latrine pits can pollute the well water. Residents rarely boil water before consumption.

Above ground urine-diverting toilets could solve this problem and a local NGO is promoting this option in order to protect the groundwater and make use of the nutrients in human waste.

Meanwhile, in nearby Migosi, a number of householders, have taken it upon themselves to lay plastic pipes to a nearby well and have the water pumped into their houses. Several households are involved in a project to clean domestic greywater by flowing it through reed beds to reduce the nutrient load.

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