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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 07:34 GMT
Anxiety as Kenyan lake dries up
By Noel Mwakugu
BBC, Nairobi

Lake Naivasha
The water levels on Lake Naivasha have been declining
Anxiety has gripped residents living along the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya's Rift Valley region following signs that the lake's water levels have been dropping.

The decline has been blamed on extensive irrigation activities along the lake by large flower plantations operating within the area.

The Lake Naivasha area is home to more that 30 flower farms that export their produce to the lucrative European markets.

Electric pumps at the flower farms are used to draw thousands of litres of water from Lake Naivasha to irrigate the massive farms.

But the extensive irrigation is slowly threatening the lake's existence - residents along the shores confirm that water levels have been steadily falling.

"In 1975 it was about one kilometre from here... inside the land... the lake is endangered now," said Joseph Gakunga, a small-scale farmer who depends on the lake for irrigation.

Fish population

More than 100 fishermen - like Stanley Mungai who has been fishing the lake for the past 30 years - depend on Lake Naivasha for their livelihood and they too fear that their source of income is threatened.

Flower farm worker
The farms export flowers to Europe
He says great changes have occurred here - in the past there was plenty of fish in the lake but today the fishermen struggle to get a good catch due to over-exploitation of the lake.

Mr Mungai observes that those using pumps to draw water have been drawing small fish through their powerful pumps, which has in turn reduced the fish population in Lake Naivasha.

But is it true that irrigation activities along the lake are to blame for the declining levels?

"Whenever people are involved in agriculture they withdraw water... if what they are removing collectively is more than what is coming in then there is an imbalance," says Dr Bancy Mati, a researcher on water issues in Kenya

Raise awareness

In response to claims that irrigation activities by flower farms are to blame for the declining water levels, some of the farms in Naivasha have launched activities aimed at conserving the lake.

They have adopted new technologies to ensure that very little water is used at the farms.

"Everything is contained.... the water for irrigation is contained in a closed container, so we try to be as efficient as we could with water usage... the entire farm is on trickle irrigation," said the technical manager at Oserian plantations, James Kelamanfon.

The residents too have intensified efforts to conserve the lake - they have now formed Lake Naivasha management committee whose chairman is Andrew Enniskillen.

"What we have tried to do is raise awareness on the part of all our members who are very diverse," said Mr Enniskillen.

"But the problem that I struggle with is that the more environmentally friendly we are in our behaviour around the lake, the less competitive advantage we have".

Despite the visible threat, most residents believe that proactive measures are crucial if they are to save Lake Naivasha - their sole water source.




SEE ALSO:
Thirsty Africa faces food crisis
02 Nov 03  |  Science/Nature
Kenya's flower power
05 Apr 01  |  Africa
Water messages from the experts
11 Jun 03  |  Have Your Say
Africa works together on water crisis
17 Mar 03  |  Science/Nature
Why world's taps are running dry
20 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature


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