~ Dire Warning from Earthwatch on World Water Day: March 22nd 2006 ~
Oxford. March 22, 2006: Lake Naivasha, Kenya's second largest lake is in crisis. The lake is now half its former size and the water level is three vertical metres lower than it should be naturally, leaving this precious wetland degraded beyond recognition.
Earthwatch scientist Dr David Harper of the University of Leicester, revealed evidence of three decades of ecological decline at Lake Naivasha and made urgent recommendations for the lake's sustainable future at the Fourth World Water Forum, in Mexico City on March 18th 2006.
"Lake Naivasha is a haven for African wildlife and a major source of water for the lakeside's quickly growing population," says Dr Harper. "Once it was considered one of the world's top ten sites for birds and a paradise of clear water, with beautiful papyrus and water lily fringes, but soon it will become a turbid smelly pond with impoverished communities eking out a living along its bare shores."
Three factors have led to the precipitous decline of the lake. More than a dozen invasive species have been introduced to the lake and they have restructured and simplified the food web. The destructive Louisiana crayfish for example, has eaten every blade of greenery and every slow moving animal under the surface of the water. The unsustainable extraction of water for agriculture, horticulture, urban and residential water supplies is sucking the lake dry, and as a result, crucial riparian swamp vegetation has been destroyed by large grazing herbivores able to access it as the lake level declines.
"These three factors combined mean the lake that remains has no natural buffer against the inflow of sediment and nutrients," says Dr Harper. "The lake is becoming an over-enriched muddy pool, which will shortly become unusable. Its inflowing rivers, formerly sparkling and permanent are now murky and unpredictable. As the lake becomes smaller and shallower it will become warmer, fuelling the growth of microscopic algae. It is only a matter of time before the lake becomes toxic."
Naivasha is being sacrificed because we require too much water. Almost everybody in Europe who has eaten Kenyan beans, Kenyan strawberries and gazed at Kenyan roses has bought Naivasha water. Tourists and hotel guests have drunk it, the Ol Karia geothermal power station is run by it, and local people depend on it for their daily lives.
Over the past 17 years Dr Harper has lead the Earthwatch Lakes of the Rift Valley research project, with over 800 Earthwatch volunteers supporting him in the field. This collaborative research has helped spur conservation efforts both locally and internationally and the long-term commitment of the project has been critical to understanding the true scale of ecological cycles in the lake.
As a result, Dr Harper makes three recommendations to save Lake Naivasha from ecological collapse. First, a maximum limit on water extraction must be agreed upon and the resource should be shared equitably in order to counteract over-use. Second, ongoing educational campaigns must be instigated to promote the real value of water among farm workers, horticultural experts, and young people.** And third, the lake must be restored to functionality. This could be achieved through a novel method termed ‘eco-system trading' whereby the end user pays for the water. Every flower, bean, litre of water and kilowatt of electricity would carry a small charge until water use becomes sustainable.
"We have a long struggle ahead of us," concludes Dr Harper. "But unless we really start finding solutions there will be no lake left to conserve, and this will be catastrophic for Kenya."
To find out more about the Earthwatch Lakes of the Rift Valley research project
For press information please contact Zoe Gamble, Senior Press Officer, Earthwatch, 00 44 (0) 1865 318852 / email@example.com