Receding water levels and declining oxygen levels in Lake Victoria could destroy its ability to sustain biological life

According to Prof Shem Wandiga, chairman of the Pan African Start Committee (Pacom), the death of the world's second largest lake is being caused by poor planning, increased population and lack of sewer maintenance. He warned in October that the continued presence of water hyacinth and the growth of algae pose a further threat, as does toxic pollution from Tanzanian mining activities.

Tanzanian Minister of Water, Anthony Diallo, speaking to the press at the 5th African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) on 3 November, said the fall in the water level is affecting the movement of ferries at Port Bell, Mwanza and Kisumu. Experts say Lake Victoria has dropped to over a metre below its 1961 level.

The Lake Victoria Region Water & Sanitation Initiative launched at Stockholm Water Week in September will, it is hoped, help reduce the environmental impact of pollution on the Lake’s ecology. Supported by the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the initiative is facilitated by UN-Habitat and is a major component of Phase II of the Water for African Cities Programme.

The investment required for water supply and sanitation in 30 lakeside towns amounts to about US$52 million, according to Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-Habitat.

Sewage pollution from Kenya should soon be eased by the Kisumu Water and Sanitation Project. Funded by a US$25 million soft loan through Agence Française de Développement (AFD), a quarter of the money is being spent on sanitation, including sewer extension, rehabilitation of two treatment stations and promotion of less polluting on-site facilities.

Currently only 20% of domestic wastewater is treated and industrial effluents are ejected straight into Lake Victoria. AFD expect the first stage of the four-year project to stem lake pollution due to Kisumu effluents by 30% by 2006.

A further measure to save the lake is the Aquatic Weeds Project, a joint venture between the governments of Uganda and Egypt. Already underway in Lake Kyoga, the US$14 million grant given by Egypt will also help combat weeds choking the shores of Lake Victoria and Lake Albert and blocking some bridges over the Kagera river.

“We came because the Nile is the lifeline of Egypt,” said the director general of Egyptian Irrigation Department, Dr Ahmed Allam.

Additionally, the World Bank (WB) has just announced an International Development Association (IDA) supplementary credit of US$3 million to Tanzania for the ongoing Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP). The three-country project “aims to generate food, employment and income, supply safe water and sustain a disease-free environment,” said Ernst Lutz, WB task team leader for the project.

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