by Robert Manyara
KISUMU, Kenya, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Capturing fish from Lake Victoria in Western Kenya has been Okoth Odhiambo's commercial activity for the past three decades but latest development of fast spreading water hyacinth on the productive waters is slowly taking away his livelihood.
"It is impossible to fish in waters where it has fully grown. It's bad news. Just terrible," Odhiambo told Xinhua.
Odhiambo is among thousands of the lake-side locals in the Western Kenya staring a threat to their social and economic well-being as fishing is the main source of income which caters for the educational, energy, health and additional food needs.
For more than ten years, the water hyacinth, a green weed-like plant, has been thriving on the Lake Victoria waters in the counties of Kisumu, Siaya and Homabay.
"Urgent measures need to be implemented to remove this water hyacinth. It is going to swallow the lake and we will not have anywhere else to fish," he said.
Odhiambo is convinced that pollution of the waters with solid and fluid waste is the most contributing factor to the emergence and thriving of the invasive aquatic plant.
Lake Victoria is a crucial development resource in the Kenyan economy predominantly supporting the country's fisheries sector.
Fishermen are crucial to the country's fisheries and aquaculture sector directly influencing the nation's gross economic performance.
For instance, available data from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that yields from Lake Victoria constituted 90 percent of the total fishery and aquaculture production in 2013.
But for the fishermen the future of the lake shared with their fellows from Tanzania and Uganda is uncertain.
Okuku Ndiege, chairperson of Beach Management Unit in Siaya County said communities around the lake basin are facing an unpredictable future should the aquatic plant which has invaded many of the beaches in the region continues to flourish.
"The first time I saw the water hyacinth in the lake was 1997 and for over the ten years it has caused too much suffering to the people in this region. It invaded and has refused to go," said Ndiege who believes the water hyacinth spread from Uganda.
"We are suffering because we cannot fish in the beaches where it is a major infestation. Cows cannot get fresh water from the lake. The community can't get clean water from the lake. The water covered with the hyacinth smells so bad because it's stagnant and deoxygenated," he said.
He emphasized the need to executive workable solutions to save the livelihoods of the fishermen.
The respective county governments where the aquatic plant is predominantly infesting the waters should collaborate with the national government in financing its manual removal, he said.
"The county governments cannot manage it on their own because it is a huge menace. Only if they can partner with the national government. We need to get money and mobilize youth to remove it manually in all the beaches in Homabay, Kisumu and Siaya counties," he said.
While this largest lake in the East African region remains a major economic resource for millions of people in the three counties, enforcing multisectoral cross-boundary strategies would restore its purity minimizing introduction of harmful elements such as the invasive plant according to environmental experts.
Antony Saisi, National Environmental Management Authority(NEMA) director in Kisumu County, said implementing integrated multisectoral approaches involving communities living along the lake, countries hosting it and those with investments in the nearby would lead to a reduced pollution of the waters.
Lake Victoria constitutes of 75 percent of rainwater which carries along nitrates and phosphates, the nutrients encouraging growth of the water hyacinth, said the environmental expert.
"For a long time there has been pollution of the lake from agricultural activities upstream. There are more chemicals from fertilizer used ending up in the lake," he said.
Also, due to lack of treatment facilities, sewerage from factories has had its way into the lake, he said.
"This has increased nitrates and phosphates in the lake creating a conducive environment for water hyacinth to grow," he added.
The hyacinth can remain under the water for nearly 40 years before it can sprout which necessities continuous undertaking of research to develop solutions to counteract its dynamics, he said.
Although manual removal of the hyacinth is a possible solution, Saisi noted importance of adopting mitigation measures to curb flow of excessive phosphates and nitrates into the lake.
Treatment plants and sewerage infrastructure must be set up and maintained within required standards to eliminate any disposal of harmful effluent into the lake.
"We must improve on solid waste management, farming and soil conservation to reduce pollution of the lake with phosphates and nitrates," he said.