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Lake Kenyatta breathes life again. But not all is ok




Lake Kenyatta in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, as it is in December 2018. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NMG 

Between 2016 and 2017, Lake Kenyatta –located in Mpeketoni in Lamu County — was literally on its deathbed.

The only freshwater lake in the county was drying up and fast disappearing following a prolonged drought.

The “sudden” drying up of much of the lake had hit the headlines — as it resulted in massive destruction of marine life and wildlife that it had supported for many years.

By then, tens of hippos, birds, water snails and other wildlife that depended on the lake for survival had died, leaving a pungent smell of decomposing flesh wafting from the vast surface that the lake had occupied.

That smell of carrion is no longer there today, two years later, and the water body named after Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta is breathing life again.

The lake is now full and is surrounded by a lush green and scenic environment of grass, swarming butterflies, singing birds, all indication of healthy life.

At its lowest point, water volumes at the lake — which more than 60,000 residents of Mpeketoni and neighbouring areas depend on — had dropped drastically from the normal 12 metres to 1.5 metres, with vast sections of the lake completely drying up.

But it is now filled to the brim, which has given hope to the residents, who are upbeat that Lake Kenyatta’s original status will be restored.

Lake Kenyatta

Lake Kenyatta in December 2018. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NMG

But is all really okay at Lake Kenyatta?

Conservationists and members of other environmental bodies interviewed by the Business Daily in the area on Monday said that nothing is normal at all.

Mr Kamau Githu, who is the chairperson of Save Lake Kenyatta Initiative (Salaki) and a member of the Mpeketoni Environmental Conservation and Beautification Initiative (Mecobi) revealed that the rate at which the water at Lake Kenyatta is evaporating is alarming.

Mr Githu said it is unfortunate that silting was taking place at a high rate, a move which has also tampered with the lake’s depth.

“Yes. The lake is full but what should be noted is that the water is very shallow and all this is attributed to too much silting. The original height of the lake is 12 metres when full.

“Today, one can walk across the lake. The water level is only between five to six metres. We are worried that the high rate of water which is disappearing to the environment through evaporation at the moment will lead to the lake’s drying up again by as early as March, 2019,” said Mr Githu.

He noted with concern that the shallow waters of Lake Kenyatta has made hippos that used to live there to run away to other places where they can find enough water to settle.

“Lake Kenyatta used to be fascinating since you could find all sorts of wildlife here. Today, despite the fact that there is water, most of the big animals that used to live here including hippos and those that used to come and drink water including buffaloes, zebras and gazelles have gone away.

“There are also a lot of herders coming with their animals to drink water here at the lake. This has made birds to vacate the area completely. We need something done urgently to restore the lake’s lost glory,” said Mr Githu.

Lake Kenyatta in Mpeketoni

A hippo grazes at the dried up Lake Kenyatta in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, where wild animals have died due to lack of water following a severe drought in this photo taken on March 17, 2017. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Lake Kenyatta

Tens of animals died when Lake Kenyatta dried up in 2017. FILE PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NMG

Lake Kenyatta Water Resources and Users Association Treasurer Susan Gaitho said they were already in discussion with various stakeholders in a move to prevent the too much silting at the lake, which she said was mainly caused by human activities.

Farmers have farming on the banks of the lake while herders continue to bring their livestock to drink water directly at the lake on a daily basis.

Fishermen still fish there while sand harvesters are also reported to be harvesting sand at the lake’s bed.

“Intense human activity including fishing and sand harvesting play an integral part in the ever dropping water levels at the lake. Other activities like farming on the banks and herding also clearly strain the capability of the lake.

“We are happy that the lake is full again but our happiness might be short-lived since it will completely die out if prompt interventions to save it are not taken. We need to come together as stakeholders to find ways of rescuing the lake,” said Ms Gaitho.

She said her organisation is already creating awareness to locals on what they should avoid doing in the surrounding areas in order to conserve the lake.

Mr Samuel Muchiri, an environmental activist in Mpeketoni said the lake is a key attraction for nature lovers and revellers.

He called on the county and national governments to bring experts to the area to assess the situation and come up with ways that would ensure the lake’s status is maintained.

Lake Kenyatta is estimated to cover a stretch of 3.7 square kilometres when full.