LAKE VICTORIA, February 29, 2016 – When an English explorer stumbled upon Lake Victoria in the middle of the 19th century, the lake’s 38,000 mile-long shoreline was pristine - broken by small, shallow bays, inlets and wetlands.
Today, the lake and its resources fuel the economies of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The lake and its catchment provide 90 percent of Uganda’s hydropower, hydropower for Burundi and Rwanda, and water supply for major urban centers like Kampala, Kigali, Mwanza, and Kisumu. Its fisheries support more than 3 million livelihoods and bring in $500 million in revenues annually. Tourists are drawn to iconic parks like Serengeti and Volcanoes, situated in the mountains, forests and savannas of the Basin.
The vast, calm waters of Lake Victoria belie the challenges facing the lake. Floating, green mats of waxy leaves with purple blossoms periodically cover large areas. Although picturesque, this water hyacinth that deprives the waters below of oxygen and creates numerous hazards for local residents. Around the lake, the loss of forest cover and erosion of soils has had chronic impacts on productivity. Wetlands have been drained for construction and agriculture. Dry hills are dotted by gullies that destroy agricultural land and property. There is constant flow of sediment and pollutants into the basin’s rivers, disrupting aquatic ecosystems.
The upper basin supports a dense rural population, particularly in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Kenya highlands. Several large towns have mushroomed in the region of the Lakeshore due to their access to Lake transport and fisheries. In total, the Basin houses around a third of the total population of East Africa, and a similar proportion of those living on less than $1.25/day. Environmental degradation is posing a threat to not just livelihoods but to the very existence of the inhabitants of the Basin whose lives are inextricably linked to the Lake.
"The challenges around the lake are more than just environmental – they are about people’s food security, employment, and simply lack of hope for a better future,’’ said Telly Eugene Muramira, Deputy Executive Secretary, Programmes and Projects, Lake Victoria Basin Commission.
More than 10 years ago, the World Bank began working on a regional initiative called the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Program (LVEMP) implemented by the East African Community (EAC) partner states and its Member States, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. In its second phase now, the project aims to tackle the environmental challenges of the Lake Victoria Basin over the long-term but also improve the welfare of millions of inhabitants that depend on its resources.
People as key to solutions
While the project aims to protect local ecosystems, it achieves this through working with communities. There are over 600 Community Driven Development (CDD) projects that support environment-friendly livelihoods – stall feeding to reduce dependence on grazing, fish farming to reduce pressure on Lake Victoria wild fisheries, using biogas to lower their dependence on fuel wood. More than 200,000 people’s lives are touched by these projects.
"There cannot be effective environmental management without improving the livelihoods of millions of people who live and work in the catchment. All environmental interventions are underlined by broader goals of poverty reduction and sustainable growth,’’ said Magda Lovei, Practice Manager, Environment and Natural Resources, Global Practice.