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Rising Lake Victoria waters wreak havoc as human-wildlife conflicts escalate

Evans Odhiambo, a casual worker at a sugar factory in Kisumu is yet to come to terms with the loss of his wife, a year after her life was cut short by a crocodile attack.

Odhiambo who resided at Kiboko bay on the shores of Lake Victoria had just returned home from work and exchanged pleasantries with his wife before she went out to fetch water.

“She left me in the sitting room with our two months old baby and never returned,” he recounts.

After waiting for nearly half an hour, he left the baby in the hands of their 16-year old daughter to check on his wife.

A sight of the bucket she walked out with, is what met his eyes, as he saw it floating on the lake waters, about four hundred metres from their house.

Due to high rainfall in the lake Basin, the lake had swollen with the waters penetrating people’s homes on the shores.

Frantic efforts to search for her through the dead of the night proved futile until the following morning when divers recovered parts of her remains on the shores.

Area residents had earlier spotted a crocodile which they scared with stones before it disappeared into the raging waters.

This case is just one among many being reported happening on the shores of the lake, even as more homes continue to be submerged.

The spike in the number of attacks is attributed to a sharp rise in the lake’s water levels, a rare phenomenon which has forced animals to move from their natural habitat into people’s homes. Cases of hippos moving into homes and feeding on crops are on the rise since the grass they eat along the beaches has been covered by water.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Nyanza Region Senior Warden Christine Boit, confirms that cases of human wildlife conflicts along the lake have skyrocketed over the last one year, leaving behind a trail of destruction and adverse human injuries.

Boit says on average, eight cases were being reported monthly, from people either bitten by snakes slithering away from the advancing waters or attacked by hippopotamuses and crocodiles whose habitat has been destroyed by the raging waters.

To help address the matter, KWS she states, has embarked on zoning human- wildlife conflict hot spots along the shores of the lake, a containment strategy employed to reduce human- wildlife conflicts and avert deaths and adverse human injuries caused by the animals.

She discloses that sections of Seme, Kisumu West, Muhoroni, Nyando and Nyakach Sub-Counties which border the lake, have been flagged as hot spots with KWS putting measures in place to address the menace.

The agency has classified the nature of attacks under three categories namely; crop destruction by hippos, predation on livestock by crocodiles and human injuries and death by the three aforementioned wild animals.

KWS, she adds, continues to document the cases and is in the process of compensating the victims based on the nature of losses and injuries.

“We have established a Community Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committee (CWCCC) which has come up with a compensation programme to help cushion victims of these conflicts,” she says.

The compensation depends on the degree of incapacitation in humans and in the case of crop destruction, an officer from the agriculture office is sent to assess the damage and submit the estimates to the committee.

The backflow, a climate change phenomenon, has not only affected residents living on the shores of the water body but is also set to eat into KWS’s budget.

KWS compensates up to Sh3 million for an injury that has led to amputation of a body part, Sh5 million to the next of kin of a victim who has died as a result of wild animal attack while livestock compensation is pegged on the current market rates.

According to Boit, the compensation process is gradual with cases pending from the year 2018.

To avert the huge financial implications, Boit discloses that KWS has embarked on sensitizing the community on how to coexist with the animals as a long-term measure to reduce the rising conflicts.

She urges area residents to move to higher grounds at the same time desist from ploughing along the shores of the lake to avoid unwanted encounters with the wild animals.

According to the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), an institution of East Africa Community (EAC) mandated to coordinate sustainable management and development of the Lake Victoria Basin, the current levels in Jinja (Uganda) is at 1135.8 metres above mean sea level while in Mwanza (Tanzania) it’s at 1134.28 and in Kisumu (Kenya) it’s at 1131.31 metres.

Former LVBC Executive Secretary (ES) and climate change expert Dr Said Ali Matano, describes the rising water levels as a climate change phenomenon, while explaining that effects of climate change which has a direct impact on weather patterns has equally affected rainfall in the lake basin.

“It is true that climate change has affected the Lake Victoria ecosystem but the exact extent of the threat is not known,” he admits.

In an interview with KNA, Dr Matano says the climate effects on the lake are prehistoric with the water body recorded to have dried twice due to climate forcing.

Climate change, he notes, has some effects on the fluctuating water levels in the lake because it has a direct effect on precipitation which contributes 80 per cent of water in the lake with the remaining 20 per cent coming from drainage systems and rivers.

Matano discloses that outflow is primarily from evaporation which accounts to 76 per cent (less than precipitation) and outflow into the Nile which accounts to 24 per cent (slightly more than what comes in from rivers).

From the foregoing, it is apparent that precipitation (rainfall), which has been adversely affected by climate change, is the main driver in determining the water levels in the lake.

Matano says the rise or decline of water levels in the lake has also affected aquatic life. This is partly to blame for the dwindling fish stocks in the second largest freshwater lake and the rising number of wildlife attacks.

Meanwhile, the City Management of Kisumu has issued notices to all developers who have encroached on wetlands and riparian land in the area to pull down their structures and vacate the land.

City Manager Abala Wanga says the land stretching from Dunga to Impala sanctuary had been grabbed by private developers dealing a blow to conservation efforts in the area. Other parcels dotted along the shores of Lake Victoria, he added have also been grabbed with some developers busy erecting structures.

Through the notice, the affected investors, he says, have been asked to stop any further development and pull down the structures failure to which the city management will obtain orders to demolish them. The City Planning Department, he discloses, has been ordered not to approve any building plans for the affected pieces of land.

The matter, he says, was before the cabinet and will be approved soon to pave the way to enforcing the directive. Wanga says the encroachment is a threat to the existence of Lake Victoria which is a lifeline for thousands of people in the area.

By Chris Mahandara

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