Residents forced to put up with foul smell from Lake Victoria

Boat passengers in Lake Victoria off Lwang'ni Beach in Kisumu on December 1, 2016. [File, Standard]

For residents living along Kisumu-Busia Road, the foul smell from Lake Victoria's Winam Gulf is making life unbearable. Many locals have attributed the smell to sunken portions of hyacinth weed within the Lake. The smell has compelled those who frequent the road to hold their breath whenever they use the road. Nancy Jura, a shopkeeper operating along the highway said she has been forced to wear at least two masks all the time due the unbearable smell.

"The smell is so strong that the masks don't help. Sometimes my eyes are teary as a result of the smell," said Jura.

Those in the food business said their customer flow has been affected as a result of the smell. Joyce Atieno recalls how her food business was dealt a blow.

"No customer wants to sit down and eat inside my hotel due to the stench," she said.

Brian Opiyo, chairman of Kichinjio Beach Management Unit said the smell is ammonia gas being produced by decomposition. The decomposition affects fish in terms of oxygen depletion, which may cause deaths even for in cages. He said farmers who do cage fish farming have incurred losses as a result of rising level of anoxic water depriving oxygen and replacing the warm surface water causing the fish to suffocate.

They have called on Kisumu county government to come up with a permanent solution for the predicament, saying the smell keeps most of them awake at night as well as affects those in the business sector. According to National Environmental Management Authority (Nema), North Lake regional Director Stella Kamwasir, most of the water hyacinth weed sunk into the lake after drying up and now causing the smell that has choked residents along Kisumu-Busia road.

She said the sunken water hyacinth and the algae bloom with the combination of hot weather has increased the decomposition. Kamwasir said the water is not safe to use and can cause irritation to the skin. However, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) experts in Kisumu say the decomposition effect of the debris is the cause of the foul smell.

KMFRI's Assistant Director, Christopher Aura, said ammonia gas is being produced due to the decomposition process along with increased rains.

"This is due to increased temperatures because of climate change. This has also been causing low oxygen levels causing fish deaths in the lake," said Dr Aura.

He said decomposing of water plants is a seasonal process triggered by climate change. Local authorities are now on the lookout to check if there is something else being disposed of inside the lake which might be contributing to the foul smell. According to Fred Oluoch, the Public Health Director, they are monitoring drainages to check for any decomposing disposals. They have so far arrested one person disposing medical waste materials into the water and the case is currently in court.

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