Controlling Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria

March 31, 2000

`WaterMats of water hyacinth are suffocating lagoons and closing down fishing communities along the shores of Lake Victoria, the world`s second largest freshwater lake. Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians are all suffering as solutions are sought to manage the alien weed. The hyacinth is a problem, but some water hyacinth control programs pose more problems than the weed itself. ELAW advocates are looking for a truly sustainable solution.

In Uganda, environmental advocates put a stop to World Bank funded efforts to rid the lake of water hyacinth using glyphosate and 2,4-D. Advocates in Uganda called on ELAW to look into the safety of the chemicals and find information on the American company contracted to spray. When hundreds of citizens attended a public hearing on the proposed control program, Uganda`s National Environmental Management Authority heeded the public outcry and canceled plans to spray the chemicals.

In Kenya, ELAW advocate Michael Ochieng Odhiambo, Executive Director of the Resources Conflict Institute (RECONCILE), asked the World Bank to address concerns raised by communities around Nyanza Gulf. The communities questioned the safety of shredding the weed and dumping it on the lake floor — part of a mechanical removal operation funded by the World Bank.

ELAW Staff Scientists provided Michael with scientific support in his preparation of a World Bank "Request for Inspection." ELAW Staff Scientists found that although mechanical removal is better than spraying, large quantities of sunken hyacinth threaten to reduce oxygen levels in the lake and endanger tilapia, Nile perch and other fish that communities depend on. The possibility also loomed that heavy metals and other toxins that water hyacinth naturally filters from lake water would be re-deposited on the lake bottom.

RECONCILE`s challenge is now before the World Bank Inspection Panel, which sent a team to Kenya on a fact-finding tour to establish the eligibility of the Request for Inspection.

ELAW advocate Deogratias Ringia with the Lawyers` Environmental Action Team in Tanzania applauds the work of his colleagues in Kenya and Uganda. "Lake Victoria is a resource shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. We will join forces to protect it," he said.

For more information about this ELAW Impact, contact: Resources Conflict Institute, P.O. Box 7150, Printing House Road, Nakuru, Kenya.