The only fresh water lake in Lamu County which was named after Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta is now breathing with life again, thanks to the ongoing rains which have been falling across the country.
Between 2016 and 2017, Lake Kenyatta, which is located within Mpeketoni in Lamu West, hit the headlines after it suddenly dried up following a prolonged drought.
This resulted to massive destruction of marine life and wildlife.
Tens of hippos, birds, water snails and other forms of wildlife that depended on the lake for survival died due to lack of water.
Speaking to journalists on Monday, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Senior Warden Mathias Mwavita said in a move to save the fresh water lake from extinction, the agency has already embarked on a serious mission to ensure its lost glory is restored.
Mr Mwavita noted that intensive human activity, including encroachment and farming around the lake, is a major problem.
Over the years, water levels in the lake have dropped dangerously as people continue to invade the wetlands.
In 2017, water volumes at Lake Kenyatta, which is depended upon by over 60,000 residents of Mpeketoni and neighbouring places, dropped drastically from a normal 12 meters to only 1.5 metres with some sections of the lake completely drying up.
Mr Mwavita said the water levels in the lake have been rising steadily rising due to the rains that have been pounding the region, a move that has given hope to the residents who are upbeat that Lake Kenyatta’s original status will be restored.
The lake is now surrounded by lush green grass with butterflies swarming around the area and birds singing, an indication of life.
The KWS officer said the biggest hurdle in their efforts to save the lake is the farming activities being undertaken by encroachers on the shores of the lake.
He said it has been impossible to deal with encroachment of the wetlands as many people there have title deeds.
“There is hope of regaining the lost glory of Lake Kenyatta. As KWS we are doing all we can to ensure that is achieved. There are so many people and wildlife dependent on this lake and that is why we are treating this campaign as a matter of urgency. Human activity is our biggest headache, not to mention the illegal encroachers who have title deeds for the wetlands. It’s tough but we must ensure the encroachment is stopped,” said Mr Mwavita.
“We’ve partnered with various environmental organisations across Lamu County to enlighten the local community in Mpeketoni and Lamu as a whole on the importance of preserving water catchment areas. We are training environmentalists so that they can directly talk to the community and create awareness on the seriousness of the situation and what the future holds for them if Lake Kenyatta and the rest of the lakes in Lamu are left to die off,” said Mr Mwavita.
Other illegal activities that continue to destroy the lake include digging of wells on its shores, overgrazing, illegal sand harvesting and siltation.
Conservationists and members of other environmental bodies in Mpeketoni who were interviewed by the Nation revealed that nothing is normal at all in as far as the situation at Lake Kenyatta is concerned.
Mr Kamau Gitu, the chairman of Save Lake Kenyatta Initiative and a member of the Mpeketoni Environmental Conservation and Beautification Initiative, said that the rate at which the water in Lake Kenyatta is evaporating is alarming.
Mr Gitu says it’s unfortunate that silting is taking place at a high rate, a move which has also interfered with the lake’s depth.
“Yes, the lake has water at the moment but it is very shallow and all this is attributed to too much silting. The original depth of the lake is 12 metres when full. Today, one can walk across the lake. The water level is only between 5 to 6 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 drying up again in future,” said Mr Gitu.
Due to the shallow waters, hippos that used to live in the lake have in recent days been forced to move to other places where they can find enough water to settle in.
On her part, Lake Kenyatta Water Resources and Users Association Treasurer Susan Gaitho said they are in talks with various stakeholders in order to prevent too much siltation at the lake which she said is majorly caused by human activities around it.
“Farmers have been farming on the shores of the lake while herders continue to bring their livestock to drink water directly in the lake on a daily basis. Fishermen continue to do fishing while sand continue harvesting continues on the lake’s bed. We need to come together as stakeholders to find ways of saving the lake,” said Ms Gaitho.
She called on the county and national governments to bring experts to the area to assess the situation and come up with ways that will ensure the lake’s status is maintained.
Lake Kenyatta is estimated to cover a stretch of 3.7 square kilometres when full.