By Arsène A.H. MUKUBWA, Program Coordinator, Lake Victoria Basin – Integrated Water Resources Management Programme
Building a shared future for all life
As people across the globe gear up for International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May 2022, the Lake Victoria Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Programme Co-funded by German Development Bank, KfW and the European Union, has curated evidence that sets out why it’s important to build a shared future for all life and resolve to protect the biodiversity of Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest freshwater lake by surface area, and the largest one in Africa. The lake has a surface area of 68,800 km2, and a shoreline of 3,450 km (Hamilton, 2018). The basin area of the lake measures 194,200 km2, and includes parts of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The lake itself is located in Kenya (6% of lake area), Tanzania (51%), and Uganda (43%).
Lake Victoria is a shared natural resource and relies on trans-boundary cooperation in order to survive. That’s why this year’s theme of building a shared future for all resonates with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission interventions, of which the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme (LVB IWRMP) which is implementing strategic projects aimed at reducing pollution levels in the Basin’s water resources, and therewith also contribute to protecting biodiversity.
The Lake Victoria Basin areas covers three types of ecoregions. The northern and western half of the basin falls within the Lake Victoria Forest-Savannah Mosaic ecoregion; the eastern and southern parts fall under the Southern Acacia-Commiphora bushlands; and the southwestern parts (in the Kagera region of Tanzania) fall under the Central Zambezian miombo woodlands ecoregion.
The fauna of these three ecoregions is diverse, and there are several national parks and game reserves within the basin where large populations of African wildlife are found. The conservation areas include the Masai-Mara National Reserve, Serengeti National Park, Biharamulo Game Reserve, Akagera National Park and Lake Mburo National Park. Common large mammals in these conservation areas include Cape buffalo, African elephant, antelopes such as elands and sable, kob, zebra, hartebeest, wildebeest and water bucks. Large carnivores include lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, striped hyena and side-striped jackal. There are also many primates in the forests and woodlands, and hippopotamus and crocodiles in the rivers, streams, and swamps.
Before the 1960s, the lake had over 500 fish species but there has been a decline to less than 300 species due to exotic species introductions, eutrophication, and ecosystem degradation.
With continuous climate variability, the region is at risk of biodiversity losses. With the changes in climate patterns, variability, and trends; fish reproductive patterns, distribution of macro-invertebrates and amphibians, and migration patterns for migratory water birds have been and will be adversely affected.
The currently ongoing LVB IWRM Programme, financed from German Development Cooperation through KfW and the European Union, is striving to reduce pollution of the Lake and improve water quality by a three-pronged approach: (1) development of an infrastructure investment programme, (2) developing a basin wide long-term IWRM strategy, and (3) developing the LVB Water Information System.
The LVBC’s programme implementation is consistent with the Protocol for Sustainable Development of Lake Victoria Basin (2004) and LVBC Strategic Plan (2021-2026). The Lake Victoria Basin Commission, a specialist institution of the EAC, based in Kisumu, Kenya, was established with a mandate to coordinate sustainable development and management of the Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) between the five Partner States, mainly through developing and implementing Projects and Programmes targeted at pollution reduction, awareness raising and capacity development.
As we, in the Commission, re-examine our relationship with our environment and natural resources, we realise that the Basin remains dependent on functioning ecosystems for water, energy and food. However, the Lake Victoria Basin have growing concerns of overpopulation, loss of biodiversity, and depleting quality of the environment, and nowhere are these effects more palpable than in and around Lake Victoria.
The main transboundary environmental concerns in the LVB have been identified in an in-depth transboundary diagnostic analysis conducted in 2006 and are still of relevance.
Land use has intensified, and human and livestock populations have increased, especially along the lakeshores and on the islands in the lake. The effects of increased pollution from urban wastewater and industrial discharges and agricultural run-off and soil erosion are visible in most of the rivers and streams (e.g., Nakivubo Channel, Kisat, Nzoia, Yala, Nyando, Kagera, Ruvubu, Simiyu).
AIR WATER EARTH (AWE) LTD – Civil, Environmental Engineering & Project Management Consultants claim that the Lake Victoria basin is used by communities and industries as a source of food, energy, water and transport. At the same time, the Lake is also a sink for human, agricultural and industrial waste. The Lake provides employment for up to 30 million people. The Lake’s catchment area of 258,700 square kilometres has a GDP of US$ 300-400 million and supports nearly one–third of the total population of East Africa. The Lake is the source of River Nile, which is renowned for white-water rafting and flows to Egypt through Sudan.” The vital role of the lake is being undermined by the environmental conditions.
The economic factors stated pose great challenges for the lake’s sustainability. “The causes of rising pollution levels in the Lake are as many as they are diverse and each of the three East African nations is culpable. The Lake has for a long time been a sink to excessive nutrients and untreated effluent that have led to fish die-offs, algal blooms and the spread of hyacinth, a ferocious waterweed. Although mostly eradicated now, the remnants of hyacinth on Lake Victoria deplete dissolved oxygen, sunlight and are an obstacle to water transport. Along the shoreline, hyacinth provides habitat for malaria mosquitoes and snails which harbour bilharzias parasites.”
According to the Journal of Environmental Management – Volume 58, Issue 4, April 2000, pollution resulting from increased human activities is threatening Lake Victoria, its effects being characterised by eutrophication and the occurrence of dramatically low dissolved oxygen levels. Results show that biological oxygen demand (BOD) load is highest on the Kenyan side. Domestic BOD loads exceed industrial loads in all regions, and management policies should therefore be directed primarily towards a reduction of domestic pollution. Therefore, through effective operation of existing treatment facilities alone BOD loads on the Kenyan side could be reduced by 50%.
The Commission believes that biodiversity is the answer to several sustainable development challenges, and the foundation upon which we can build back better. From ecosystem-based approaches to climate and/or nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity serves as a foundation to build a shared future.
 Stuart, Hamilton (13 November 2018). “Lake Victoria Statistics from this Dataverse” (Data Set). Harvard Dataverse.