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Lake Jipe faces extinction due to effects of climate change

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

Lake Jipe is facing extinction due to massive siltation and other environmental and management challenges.

The lake is an important transboundary wetland ecosystem at the border of Kenya and Tanzania that covers an estimated 30 square kilometres.

According to various studies and the Lake Jipe basin and integrated management plans conducted in consultation with stakeholders, the other problems contributing to its extinction include recurring droughts, nearby deforestation, overgrazing and invasive water weeds.

It also emerged from a consultative stakeholders meeting in a Voi hotel in Taita Taveta county that water volume has drastically reduced, thereby affecting wildlife conservation and fishing.

The meeting brought together senior Kenya Wildlife Service officials, tourism players and ranchers in the region.

Present at the meeting included KWS Head of Parks and Reserves George Osuri and County Commissioner Loyford Kibaara.

"There are several infrastructures coming up at the lake that are making it lose its ecological status," noted Pascal Mutula, a hotelier.

"The management of KWS has allowed illegal herders in the park. That has compounded the problem. 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.

The stakeholders noted other problems including transboundary resource management issues as well as limited income-generating activities among the local communities.

"Other challenges have been brought about by inappropriate liquid waste management from surrounding settlements, urban and peri-urban centres where the use of septic tanks, soak pits and open drains are 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 also revealed that the dying lake 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 and farmlands, proliferation of the typha weed and diversion of freshwater recharge from River Lumi.

Environmental experts noted the lake has increasing salinity, decreasing depth and biodiversity.

Hippos and crocodiles have migrated upstream due to salinity.

"The lake is of global importance and the only place in the world where the fish Oreochromis Jipe is found and which is on the verge of extinction," said one of the experts.

Osuri and Kibaara confirmed the lake is facing serious ecological and environmental challenges that need urgent intervention.

Osuri said KWS would start engaging the locals and the county government on how to save the lake ecosystem on the Kenya side.

"The lake is a resource that many people depend on for their economic livelihood for fishing," said Osuri.

Kibaara said he would soon visit the area to make consultative meetings with relevant stakeholders geared towards saving the lake basin.

"Authorities in Tanzania are serious in the protection of the lake ecosystem, but on our side, we are not," Mutula told the leaders.

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

As a result, community needs and aspirations were not addressed, leading to further marginalisation of the poor.

At the same time, all government-led projects in the basin have failed because they contributed to the displacement of local people from their communal land.

This resulted in a lack of motivation to conserve Lake Jipe.

Furthermore, swampy areas have been illegally reclaimed for rice fields. These swamps or floodplains have a role in groundwater recharge and filtration points thus its disappearance will have adverse environmental consequences.

"The collapse of the fishery is due to changes in water quality due to increased human activities in the catchments," the Global Nature Fund that was implementing a project along the Tanzanian side of the lake said in a statement in 2016.

Damian Mwaka, a Kenyan farmer and environmental activist from the area, 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 Lake Jipe's main inflow - the River Lumi - leaving the lake to rely on underground rivers in-flowing from the nearby Lake Chala and the River Mvulani which flow in through the Tanzanian side.

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