MP calls for action to save Lake Jipe from extinction

 A section of Lake Jipe in Taita Taveta County. [File, Standard]

Lake Jipe in Taita Taveta County is on the verge of extinction due to massive siltation and other environmental concerns.

The watershed is an important transboundary wetland ecosystem at the border of Kenya and Tanzania covering an estimated area of 30 kilometres.

On Wednesday, Taveta MP John Bwire noted that the lake that is the main lifeline for the local community is fast drying up due to massive siltation.

He said the diversion of fresh water from River Lumi, the main water inlet for the lake is partly to blame for the diminishing water levels.

Mr Bwire noted that water is going directly to River Ruvu in Tanzania without passing through and recharging River Lumi which is the only water source and inlet for the drying lake.

He said the lake is facing serious ecological and environmental challenges that need urgent intervention to save it from drying up.

“Lake JIpe is an important watershed for the fishing industry and survival of wildlife. Its drying up will impact negatively on fishermen, local farmers and wildlife,” the legislator said during a consultative meeting at Wundanyi Social Hall.

He urged the government to set aside more resources for desilting the important water resource whose riparian communities are dependent on it.

“The lake’s water volume has drastically reduced, affecting wildlife conservation and fishing activities. The government should set aside more resources to save the river ecosystem that is on the verge of collapse due to massive siltation among other environmental challenges,” he told the meeting.

Various studies developed and the Lake Jipe basin and integrated management plans done in consultation with various stakeholders, including government, civil societies, the private sector and the local communities show problems facing the lake include siltation, soil erosion, and recurring droughts occasioning shrinking fishery, deforestation, reduced lake run off, overgrazing and invasive water-weeds.

“There are several infrastructures coming up at the lake that are losing its ecological status because water volumes have drastically reduced,” said a hotelier, Pascal Mutula.

“Massive siltation is threatening the existence of the lake that serves as one of the economic livelihoods of riparian communities,” said the hotelier who is also a former water expert in the national government.

“Other challenges have been brought about by inappropriate liquid waste management from surrounding settlements, urban and peri-urban centers where the use of septic tanks, soak pits and open drains is commonly used to dispose of sewerage, industrial discharge, and other wastewater material,” said Mutula, the proprietor of Lavender Gardens Hotels and Lake Jipe Tented Camp.

A recent study revealed that the dying lake has lost about 50 per cent of its water mass within the last 10 years due to siltation caused by the destruction of the water catchment areas, farmlands, proliferation of the typha weed and diversion of River Lumi.

Preliminary efforts to address the degradation of Lake Jipe basin adopted a top-down approach as the government excluded locals from the project design, planning, and decision-making process.

“The collapse of the fishery is due to changes in water quality due to increased human activities in the catchments," said the Global Nature Fund, which was implementing a project along the Tanzanian side of the lake.

Damian Mwaka, a local farmer said poor land use brought about by the surge in industrial farms and ranches in the semi-arid area has seen farmers divert water from River Lumi.