Unprecedented levels of environmental degradation are threatening the economy of Central Kenya, with the region’s only lake now facing extinction.
Lake Ol Bolossat which is 43.3km Square faces threat from human activities such as over grazing, pollution, illegal settlement on riparian land and quarrying which has lseen the water body reduces at an alarming rate.
The lake is classified as Important Bird Area attracting tourists and researchers interested in different migratory birds which comes from as far as Europe, and Asia. Fishermen in the area derive their livelihoods from cat fish which comes in plenty during rainy seasons.
As a source of Ewaso Nyiro River, it supports a large population of people, livestock and wildlife downstream in the Northern Kenyan arid and semi-arid areas.
However, the beauty and economic benefits from the Lake is at stake as activities such as farming, overgrazing, quarrying, and encroachment on riparian areas now pose greater threat with residence doubting if Ol Bolossat will survive the next fifteen years.
In an interview with multiple stakeholders including the National Environmental Management Authority, Kenya Wildlife Services, and the Nyandarua County government, all concede that the lake faces life threatening challenges which needs to be addressed hat needs to protect it from extinction.
"Currently we don't even have a management plan for the lake, the five year management plan of 2008-2013 which offered clear road map on conservation expired three years ago and no signs are in place to come up with such document to back up sound management," says Wellington Gathungu, Kenya Wildlife Service Senior Warden, Nyandarua County.
"Population around the lake is growing at an alarming rate and continuously we see many people settling on riparian areas and incidences of pollution increasing thereby affecting the lake," he says.
He notes that the delay in renewal of the plan makes bodies such as his organisation toothless in enforcing strategies that would deter activities such overgrazing, mining and wanton land grabbing now threatening the existence of the lake.
According Martin Consaga Matu, assistant chief Mukindu Sub location, the rate at which the lake is disappearing is alarming and needs a multi-agency approach to contain the situation before it gets out of hand.
"Ol Bolossat is known for different bird species which made it classified as an important bird area, this means that it is known worldwide for rare bird species that keeps on attracting bird lovers and students across the Globe to come and see," he notes.
"People are cultivating around the lake and soil washed into the lake, reclaiming the lake and making it easier for people to settle," he says adding that this needs joint effort from agencies to tame the situation.
According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the receding level of the Lake has led to lose of lives and crop destruction due to the conflict between human and wildlife animals.
Most rampant cases we are witnessing are attacks by hippos, the animals invade people's crops and in extreme cases kill locals, this is because the volume of the lake has reduced creating more exposure," he says.
Recent case witnessed was within this year when a hippo attacked a Kenya Wildlife Services Officer killing him on the spot. The burden of such deaths is normally passed to the taxpayers as new law puts the rate of compensation at between Sh5million and Sh3million in case of death and injury respectively.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in an interview says the new constitution which was promulgated in 2010 gives Nyandarua County full mandate in managing the lake with NEMA only playing coordination role.
"We acknowledge various activities such as the poor disposal of waste and the threat of Nyahururu town to the Lake which needs to be addressed, it is up to the county government to come up with by-laws in protecting natural resources devolved in the new constitution," says Stephen Katua, NEMA's Head of Wetlands.
"The County needs to move with lightning speed to contain the disappearance of the Lake, as you know its a source of water to Ewaso Ngiro River and serves several counties," he says.
We want to see sound management including maintaining riparian distance at recommended 30 meters from the highest water mark and this needs a clear plan from the County Government.
Nyandarua County Government through Engineer Martin Kamami, Chief Officer, and department of water, environment and natural resources says the county is yet to gazett the Lake making it difficult to enforce conservation measures like relocating people who have encroached and grabbed land around the Lake.
He told standard that though the county is aware of encroachment and illegal activities like quarrying, it has taken the county government whose leadership term comes to an end in August, 2017 general election almost four years to enforce such critical plan which is a sure bet in enforcing conservation measures to to the lake.
Some leaders acknowledged the challenge that could defeat gazettment of the lake which would document extent of the lake and measures to be taken on those who have illegally settled on the riparian areas.
While Engineer Kamami is optimistic that the County will gazette the lake before the end of the current leadership many harbor the feeling that considerations could derail implementations as voters are involved in the activities posing danger to the only Lake in Central Kenya that also has organic fertiliser potential due to its bio deposits.