Water hyacinth returns to torment fishermen

Dickens Wesonga @PeopleDailyKe

On a normal day, Lwang’ni Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu is a hive of activity. Hundreds of visitors and residents flock the beach to buy fresh fish, a popular delicacy in the lake-side city.

But this may soon be a thing of the past following the re-emergence of water hyacinth in the lake. Hundreds of fishermen have been forced to move to other areas, a development that  is likely to hurt the county’s economy. 

So bad is the situation that the weed has for instance covered the entire Winam gulf, which also serves as a fish breeding area.

“Of the 34 fish landing sites, Kichinjio beach in Kisumu Central sub-county is the worst hit,” said Alfred Ajul, County Agriculture and Fisheries officer.

Kennedy Ochieng, 57, a boat owner said his eight employees are reluctant to venture into the lake for fear of being trapped by the weed, saying the plant has become a perfect hibernation place for mosquitoes, snakes, hippos  and crocodiles.

When People Daily toured the beach early this week, the few remaining fishermen were spotted harvesting sand for sale.  Omondi said although the county has banned the activity, the fishermen must look for alternative source of income.

“We sell the sand for Sh3,500 per seven tonnes of lorry but we have to play hide-and-seek with government  agencies enforcing the ban,” said Collins Oluoch, a fisherman.

The ripple effects of the weed are being felt far and wide. Omondi said most businessmen on the shores of the lake have closed shop for lack of customers.

Jacklin Anditi, a hotel owner at Lwang’ni, says she is worried about the spread of the weed “because it will drive us out of business”.  She said she plans to reduce them number of staff because clients have reduced.

“I have five waiters but I may reduce them to two if the hyacinth menace is not addressed because sales have gone down. We even struggle to get fish supplies,” she said.

There appears to be no immediate solution to the menace that has bedevilled the region for close to 20 years.

Mitigation measures rolled out so far include  mechanical,  biological and manual removal of the weed which is not very effective. Several agencies are still grappling to find a lasting solution to the problem.

Kisumu Environment executive Salmon Orimba said the county did not set aside any funds to deal with the menace in this year’s budget but called for a collaborative approach.  “Clearly, we are underfunded and what we can only support  conservation efforts  to control pollution of the rivers upstream to ensure what is drained into  the lake is clean.

He accused some industries and State institutions of discharging waste into the lake. “We have identified six sites for tree planting in Nyando,  Kisumu West and East, and in Nyakach sub-counties where we target to plant  500,000 tree seedlings annually to boost our  forest cover,” he said.

He said the county incurs huge costs in treating the lake water. Lake Victoria Basin Commission’s  Executive Secretary Ally Matano said the problem will only be addressed if pollution and human activity are  controlled.  He said more efforts should be channelled to  saving the Mau ecosystem. 

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