Lake Kenyatta is one of the largest freshwater bodies in Lamu County, on the north Kenyan coast. It supplies water to an estimated 60,000 people as well as being a critical water source for wildlife and livestock. But the lake is under threat, and those threats are growing.
When visiting Lake Kenyatta you can’t miss the large herds of livestock and wildlife grazing and drinking in and around the lake. Indeed it can be hard to locate where the water is under the sea of cattle, goats and other animals competing for access. Some estimates put the current population of cattle around the lake as being over 100,000 and you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the local community was a livestock farmer!
As it happens, this is just one of a number of livelihood practices that are heavily dependent on the lake. Worryingly, the lake is now disappearing right before the eyes of the locals. Poorly planned management means that water is being used unsustainably. At the same time, levels of pollution and sedimentation are troublingly high.
Forest cover around the lake, both in the immediate and wider catchment areas, has been depleted due to human activities. Whilst some agro-forestry (agriculture which involves the cultivation of trees) is being practiced, forest coverage in this area is about 3% which is well below the set national standard of 10%. Removal of trees results in increased soil erosion and siltation of the lake.
On the farms that have been established where trees have been cleared, open flooding irrigation (a system known to waste a lot of water) is regularly being used by farmers. Agro-chemicals are also being used in the farms and these are finding their way into the lake.
Similarly, the watering and grazing of livestock results in siltation of the lake as they churn up the soil in the surrounding area. Domestic water uses (such as from pit latrines or washing) are also reducing water quality as is the risk of salt water intrusion. As the water level in the lake drops, sea water can seep into the lake, increasing levels of salt in the water and impacting the ecosystem.
Demand on the lake is growing
The nearby town of Mpeketoni has been growing rapidly in recent years, associated with increasing economic development opportunities in the surrounding area. High demand for water associated with this population influx has seen the sinking of many wells in the area, with more being sunk each month, leading to over-abstraction of water.
Increasing drought conditions have also meant that livestock farmers from neighbouring counties (and sometimes even further away) are increasingly settling in areas around the lake. When drought conditions were less intense, these nomadic livestock farmers and their livestock would move through the Lake Kenyatta region during the dry season, but return to the neighbouring counties when the rains came. Now, under increasing drought conditions, they fear their livestock will perish if they move on so they are establishing makeshift villages along the lake’s water catchment.
As settlement continues to increase, water levels in the lake continue to go down. Livestock also comes into conflict with wildlife in the area, increasing human-wildlife conflict as well as the risk of disease transmission.
What we’re doing to tackle the problems
It’s complex to say the least! And we can’t solve these challenges alone. Recently we’ve been working with a wide range of stakeholders – from the local community to government agencies – to better understand these challenges and agree short and long-term solutions that will ultimately ensure sustainable use of the lake for people and wildlife.
There’s already been some great progress. The County Government has committed resources to help progress things further. We’re doing a lot of education and outreach work to raise awareness of the challenges associated with the lake and to build capacity for more sustainable water use. Going forward, we’ll be taking some immediate tangible actions – like planting more trees to reduce siltation of the lake – as well as some longer term pieces of work looking at water resources and abstraction rates so that we can help develop a fair and sustainable water allocation plan for around the lake.
We’re also capitalising on the spatial planning work that’s happening in the county at the moment. Each county in Kenya has been mandated to develop a plan which will help guide development over the next 10-15 years. This is a great opportunity for us to ensure that sustainable land use systems are put in place around Lake Kenyatta.
This is a great opportunity for us to ensure that sustainable land use systems are put in place around Lake Kenyatta for the benefit of people and nature
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This work is part of WWF’s Coastal Kenya Programme, which is gratefully supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Size of Wales and the UK Government through the Department for International Development.