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Worry as broken dyke continues to drain water from oxbow lake

 Siaya's Lake Kanyaboli is rapidly drying up sparking an alarm from scientists, residents and local leaders. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

The golden and blue rays dancing on the water's surface at sunrise create nothing short of a magical paradise.

Fishermen rowing ashore in their traditional canoes after a night-long venture make Lake Kanyaboli in Siaya even more memorable as they slowly paddle their canoes back to the shore.

The chirping birds confirm that the 1,000-acre lake is an paradise for bird watchers.

But behind the inescapable beauty of the second largest oxbow lake in Africa, all is not well, thanks to human activities and harsh climate change.

Africa's second-largest oxbow lake is on the verge of extinction if the rate of its decline is anything to go by.

Water levels at the lake have been declining in the last couple of months, leaving behind drying shrubs and puddles of water. According to experts and county officials, the lake has lost 80 per cent of its water.

Not even the heavy rains the region experienced in the last couple of weeks in parts of Siaya has rescued the situation as the lake's diameter continues to shrink. Residents of Kadenge in Alego Usonga sub-county have voiced their concerns regarding the rate at which the water level in Lake Kanyaboli continues to drop.

The lake provides a refuge for several species of fish that are no longer present in Lake Victoria and 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.

According to residents, reduced water flow has led to water shortages within the area.

This, they say, has also affected the production of food in the area as residents are mostly subsistence farmers and fisher folk.

Abubakar Omari, a fisherman, says they are concerned about the future of fishing in the lake due to the drop in water levels, which has reduced the available habitats for fish.

Last week, Siaya Governor James Orengo called on the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) to intervene and save Africa’s second largest oxbow lake in the wake of a recent disaster caused by a broken dyke.

Early last month, Lake Kanyaboli broke a dyke that separates it from Yala Swamp, pouring water into the wetland.

In the process, various fish species unique to the lake escaped into the swamp, while farmers lost crops to flooding. Downstream, several homes in parts of Usonga and Budalangi flooded, displacing families.

Orengo said the disaster, which saw Lake Kanyaboli lose 80 per cent of its water volume, has led to serious impact on the local ecosystem affecting both aquatic and non-aquatic life.

Speaking after the dyke collapsed, Orengo said there is a need for bodies such as Unep, UN-Habitat and the national government to mobilise resources and undertake proper studies on how to rehabilitate the lake.

“This needs a lot of resources and studies to come up with a blueprint and work plan that is going to change this environment positively,” said the governor, adding that the disaster had meted adverse effects on the animal and plant life within the ecosystem.

He said the county government of Siaya will not be able to meet the enormous requirements to rehabilitate the lake.

“I have talked with our neighbours in Busia, and we have agreed in principle that we need to talk with the national government and other partners,” said Orengo.

Busia Governor Paul Otuoma said the lake was draining very fast, hence the need for immediate intervention, failure to which it will degenerate into a catastrophe.

“It has created an environmental and human disaster downstream in Budalangi where two wards are submerged,” he said, adding that schools and farms in the areas are currently underwater.

Otuoma noted that the bridge had been blocked for years, adding that there is no station to control the waters at Lake Kanyaboli.

Thomas Achando, the chairman of Yala Swamp Indigenous Community Conservation Group, said there is a need for a permanent solution to the problem affecting Lake Kanyaboli.

“Lake Kanyaboli is likely to dry up because of water overflowing towards the swamp,” he said, adding that the lake should have a permanent inlet and outlet to control the volume of water inside it.

Achando, who was part of the team that surveyed in 1970, noted that the broken dyke had affected not only human settlements, but also plants and animals in Busia and Siaya counties.

“Lake Kanyaboli is a unique ecosystem that provides water, supports agriculture and tourism and regulates global climate by acting as a carbon sink,” said Achando.

Ayiro Lwala, a member of the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group, said they are likely to lose endemic birds such as yellow and white-winged warblers, gonoleks and canaries.

Others are caruthers, cisticolas, and northern-brown throated weavers that are found in the lake.

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