The dawn must come.

The dawn must come.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The agony of Lake Victoria.

The following article appeared in 2005 on the Tanzania Gazette, and I promptly forwarded it to the e-post address of Al Dostor newspaper care of Mr. ibrahim Issa, but did not hear an echoe of it anywhere ever since on any Egyptian newspaper.

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As Lake Victoria suffocates under a dense mat of tangled water hyacinth, experts are still desperately seeking an answer. But no easy solution is in sight as further scandals have surfaced over the award of contracts for clearance of the noxious weed and the use of chemicals to kill the fish in the lake. WILLIAM ONYANGO reports.
A major row has broken out over the awarding of a contract for clearing the water hyacinth which is strangling the life out of Lake Victoria, Africa's largest fresh water lake. Lake Victoria is vital to the economies of the lacustrine states of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania but so far no solution has been found to the deadly weed which is engulfing the waters, hindering shipping and ruining the fishing industry. The Kenyan shores of the lake are now almost totally strangled by the vicious, fast growing weed.
For decades a debate has continued over methods of countering the water hyacinth. Attempts at manual clearance have proved ineffective and no biological solution has been discovered. World experts have also discarded dangerous chemical solutions because they might damage other vegetation and the fish population in the lake.
Finally the World Bank offered financial assistance for the lake to be cleared mechanically and bids were called for. Companies had to prove that they could handle the job efficiently. They had to prove experience in handling similar operations. They had to show that they had the right machinery available and submit a quotation that was not LESS than $50m to do the job.
Over 15 firms, both foreign and local tendered bids to mechanically shred and chop the weed. But most of the tenders were disqualified because they did not meet the necessary conditions. Some firms had no experience in the type of work required, others were under-capitalised.
Though it was said that preference would be given to a local firm, the contract was finally awarded to Oceania Int’l, an Israeli firm. This immediately brought a storm of protest.
The Association of Food and Agriculture brought out a document querying the awarding of the contract. Alfred Omondi, the AFA) chairman, complained to the World Bank representative Harold Wackman: "It has been confirmed that transparency in awarding the tender has been compromised...Oceania quoted far below what experts approved..."
The World Bank has now asked the government to re-evaluate the whole process and this review is currently going on. Christine Cornelius of the World Bank office in Nairobi told New African that the Bank had also raised some technical questions which were being investigated.
Kenya's town of Kisumu, the most important port on Lake Victoria, has been hardest hit by the strangling weed. Cargo vessels, which for years ferried goods to other countries round the lake, have been virtually halted by the dense mat of undergrowth which is suffocating the harbour. The weed delays shipping to such an extent that alternative transport has to be used for much traffic. This puts more vehicles onto the roads adding to the pressure on the fragile network.
Lake Victoria produces 90% of Kenya's fresh water fish but the growth of the water hyacinth has impeded the fishing industry which reports continually deteriorating catches in recent years. The situation was aggravated by some fishermen who tried to catch more fish by putting organo-phosphate chemicals (used in cattle dips) to kill the fish in the lake. This might also have contaminated some of the fish, leading to a European ban on all fish imports from the lake. An assistant chief and a fishery officer were arrested after they had been found with a huge quantity of chemicals that they had used to catch the fish.
Efforts to exterminate the weed have ranged from the serious to the comical. Witchdoctors have been brought in to repel the hyacinth by magic, but without success. Attempts have been made to harvest the weed manually, but teams have been unable to keep up with the explosive growth stimulated by fertilisers and other nutrients that have seeped into the lake.
There will be no solution until an effective system of mechanical clearance is up and running. That may take some time yet.

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