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Migrating birds make little known lake a tourism spot

By James Omoro | April 5th 2021
Flamingoes wade in Lake Simbi Nyaima, Homa Bay County. [James Omoro, Standard]

For a long time, residents of Karachuonyo in Homa Bay County have been depending on Lake Simbi Nyaima for their livelihood.

The name was generated from Simbi, which is the name of the village where the lake is, while Nyaima is a Dholuo term that refers to something that is sinking and being covered by water.

Residents used to collect a mineral locally referred to as bala from the lake. Bala is a mineral that exists in the form of brown soil with nutritional content similar to that of lime. It is used for cooking vegetables, soda ash and sometimes used in place of salt. It is also used for feeding livestock.

But in the last three years, the mineral has been completely submerged by the waters of the lake.

According to the chairman of Lake Simbi Nyaima Management Committee Kepher Owino, the situation left the residents in a needy state.

Saltwater body

Lake Simbi Nyaima is a small salty water body measuring about 2km in circumference and 27.5 metres deep.

“Bala was a source of livelihood for us but most of us are suffering because we can no longer get it after it was submerged about three years ago,” Owino said.

Despite the lake being important to the residents, it seems to be of no economic value to them since it doesn't have fish and its water cannot be used for domestic purposes.

But the arrival of flamingoes into the lake is now being perceived as a fortune that will replace bala. 

Flamingos, which are mainly domiciled in Lake Nakuru and Bogoria in Rift Valley, have now made Lake Simbi Nyaima their sanctuary.

They started visiting the lake some three years ago.

A few could fly to the lake and stay for about a week during each of the two rainy seasons experienced in Lake Victoria region. They would then fly back.

But since their return to Lake Simbi Nyaima during the last rainy season in September last year, they have never flown back. It seems the lake is now their permanent home.

The birds have kept increasing in number. Today, the lake is full of flamingos, which are wading all around it.

The presence of the flamingos and other factors make the lake a tourist destination.

Lake Simbi Nyaima has been receiving different groups of visitors, including researchers, who want to know how the lake was formed.

There are those who have made the area a picnic site while various learning institutions also tour the lake for educational purposes. 

The lake is also visited by religious leaders who pray for sick people.

During our visit to the lake, we met Kennedy Odongo, a catechist of the God Last Appeal Church.

Odongo was with four patients at the lakeshore. According to them, they had travelled a long distance from Anding’o village in Ndhiwa Sub-county near the boundary with Awendo Sub-county in Migori County.

Kennedy Odongo, a catechist of the God Last Appeal Church, cleansing his patient in Lake Simbi Nyaima, Homa Bay County.  [James Omoro, Standard]

The catechist tells us he visits the lake at least five times a month. He believes that the lake has healing properties and he always comes there to pray for patients who seek his intervention.

We observe as he first prays at the lakeshore and winds up the process by washing the patients' face, head, hands and legs inside the lake.

“This lake is a source of healing. After washing the patients, all their problems remain in the lake. This means when we leave here to go home, the patients have high hopes of recovering,” Odongo said.

He argues that even those who are possessed by demonic spirits get healed "instantly" upon being washed in the lake.

“This lake is a big asset for us men of God and we value it because it has enabled us to save many lives,” Odongo added.

In spite of many tourism activities taking place around the lake, residents are concerned that it lacks economic value for them.

The chairman of the lake's management committee argues that hundreds of people visit the lake daily but there's no revenue collected as the area is not fenced.

“The lake is not fenced and people can approach it from any corner. We gain nothing from the tourists even though this is a popular site toured by people from all parts of the country,” Owino said.

Owino believes that putting a fence around the lake will go a long way in helping them collect revenue, which in turn will go to developing the area and benefit the locals.

Homa Bay Tourism chief officer Moses Buriri said the county had allocated Sh5.2 million for fencing the lake.

Buriri said they intend to develop a policy of improving the lake environment to enable the site generate funds for the benefit of the locals and the county government.

He said the project will begin by developing a design after one week.

“We expect the fencing work to be concluded by the end of May. It can only take longer if there is a delay in channeling funds to our department but the county government is committed to ensuring that this project is completed at the stipulated time,” Buriri said.

He argued that the plan will create jobs and revenue for the county government.

“Our objective is to create jobs for locals and generate revenue for the county government,” Buriri added.

The devolved unit, he said, had formed a committee that is working on tourism policy to market tourism sites in the county.

“We are also planning to map all tourist attraction sites as an effort to improve tourism in the county,” said Buriri.

Lake Victoria Tourism Association Secretary-General Bob Onimo said the organisation will support the county government in developing a policy that could enhance symbiotic relationship in tourism at the site.

Hoteliers in the area have also expressed optimism that improving the site for tourism will accord them good business from the traffic generated.

Francis Waweru, the manager in charge of food and beverage at Cold Springs Hotel in Homa Bay town, said after the Covid-19 pandemic, they have been forced to rely on domestic tourism, hence their hotel will gain upon the improvement of the lake.

The lake was formed as a result of volcanic eruptions.


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