Essential oxbow lake in Yala at risk of drying up


Members of Kanyaboli Site Support group participate in a monitoring exercise of Yala swamp that spreads across Siaya and Busia Counties, in December last year. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Upon the setting sun, Lake Kanyaboli looks nothing short of a magical paradise with golden rays dancing on the water’s surface.

Squads of fishermen rowing ashore after day-long ventures make it even more memorable.

Lake Kanyaboli is an oxbow lake forming part of the Yala swamp ecosystem that spreads across Yala in Siaya County. It lies on the mouth of rivers Nzoia and Yala. The unique freshwater lake was formed as a result of the backflow of water from Lake Victoria as well as floodwaters from both rivers Yala and Nzoia.

“Lake Kanyaboli is a very unique ecosystem. It has both rare and endemic species and has over the years inspired a lot of research. It is also a critical source of freshwater to the local communities living around it,” says Ibrahim Ogola, Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) honorary warden.

While Lake Kanyaboli provides a refuge for several species of fish that are no longer present in Lake Victoria, it is also home to the locally endangered Sitatunga antelopes.

Sitatunga is a rare swamp-dwelling antelope distinguished by its long, widened hooves that make them adapted to walking through muddy swampland.  

Despite the exciting phenomenon the unique lake offers, its existence is threatened due to unresolved land issues within Yala swamp.

Being part of the ecosystem, Lake Kanyaboli has borne the brunt of the challenges felt within Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland.

“There have been contentious issues facing the lake as a result of competition for land for agricultural purposes... developers try to regulate more water from getting into the swamp,” Ogola added.

Controlling and diverting water from getting into the lake, Ogola says, has resulted in cases of algal blooms within the lake, a situation that has resulted in the outbreak of waterborne diseases. “Cases of burning the swamp as part of reclaiming areas for agriculture is becoming a threat, especially to animal species residing within the swamp.

“The threats in Lake Kanyaboli require an urgent address and if nothing is done, the lake will dry up, then the swamp will dry up because the lake recharges the swamp,” he said.

Moses Nyawasa, an extension officer with Nature Kenya in Yala, said the interference of the inflow of the lake and use of agrochemicals is an emerging threat.

Nyawasa added that cases of poisoning of fish using chemicals are also a challenge.

And although there are three gazetted beaches – Kombo, Gangu and Kadenge – within the lake, cases of fishing using wrong gear are threatening breeding of fish in the lake.

Over the years, Yala swamp, which acts as a filter for rivers flowing into Lake Victoria, arresting pollutants while hosting hundreds of rare species, has faced challenges stemming from ownership row between private developers and local communities.

“Developments within the swamp are not controlled and that is why everyone seems to be scrambling for a piece,” said Ayiro Lwala, Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group chairman.

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Lake Kanyaboli