Saturday, January 31, 2015

Car Washing: A Human-Induced Challenge to the Future of Lake Victoria’s Wetland Resources

By Kimbowa Richard, The East African Sustainability Watch Network
Wetlands are one of the fragile ecosystems that require to be conserved as countries develop due to tangible and non-tangible benefits now and in the future. They purify and replenish our water, and provide the fish and rice that feed billions. Wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, and protect our coastlines. They burst with biodiversity, and are a vital means of storing carbon

Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known. Often viewed as wasteland, 64% of the global wetlands have disappeared since 1900, according to the Ramsar (Wetlands Convention) Secretariat.

Therefore, the 2015 International Wetlands day on the theme ‘Wetlands for the Future’ comes as no surprise. For example in East Africa serious threats to wetlands arise from the need to meet the growing water, food, energy and other livelihood needs.

Lake Victoria wetlands: threatened sponges due to the fast growing urban population

According to the Ramsar (Wetlands) Convention, there are over 2,000 Ramsar Sites on the territories of over 160 Ramsar Contracting Parties across the world. For example the Lake Victoria basin hosts 6 of them including Lutembe, Mabamba and Lake Nabugabo wetlands systems; Nabajjuzi wetland system, and the Sango bay – Musambwa Island- Kagera wetland system.

However, Ramsar sites that are globally recognised are only part of the web that also includes smaller and ‘less important’ ones, which face considerable pressure and greed due to human induced activities. These form part of the drainage system (rivers, streams, bays and other natural water reservoirs) that are under considerable stress.

Ramsar sites of international importance: Under threat though we need to increase coverage

A key commitment of Ramsar Contracting Parties is to identify and place suitable wetlands onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Contracting Parties confirmed in 2005 that their vision for the Ramsar List is “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services”. This vision reflects the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which describes ecosystems as the complex of living communities (including human communities) and non-living environment (ecosystem components) interacting (through ecological processes) as a functional unit which provides, among other things, a variety of benefits to people (ecosystem services).

Unfortunately, Ramsar sites are under substantive threats from human induced pressures. For example Lutembe wetland system hosts over 70% of the global population of white-winged black terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), large numbers of the grey-headed gulls (Larus cirrocepharus), black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) and gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica). However, Lutembe wetland system is threatened by agro-chemicals that have now been detected in the waters which if not controlled, will pollute the waters and not only threaten the fish stocks, but human beings as well.

Car washing: a micro-level human induced activity on wetlands in the L.Victoria basin

Car washing in Lake Victoria is unsightly in many towns and cities like Kampala, Kisumu and Mwanza. This illegal activity goes on unabated despite the presence of institutions, policies and laws that ought to deter it. This has resulted in release of waste water that affects water quality, fish breeding, and contributes to eutrophication of our interconnected natural water reservoirs.

Despite several threats (for example in 2012, NEMA Kenya barred car washing in the Lake), the seemingly small scale practice is cumulatively going on unabated, threatening livelihoods (pollution of water supply, destruction of fish breeding sites, destruction of wetlands among others)

Petition to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria

It is in the above regard that the East Africa Sustainability Watch Network is now petitioning NEMA (Uganda), NEMA (Kenya), the National Environment Management Council (Tanzania), the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, city and town authorities as well as other Local authorities around Lake Victoria to make a difference for the health of our heritage by acting on those that are abusing the established laws and policies.

The Petition seeks have all existing laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria invoked by these mandated institutions, to offset pressure on Lake Victoria wetlands and its declining health so as to improve the livelihoods of the over 30 million dependent communities across East Africa.

Click here to read more about and sign up Petition to NEMA (Kenya), NEMA (Uganda) and NEMC (Tanzania) to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria from here