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January 21, 2019

Desperation as the hyacinth carpet spreads on L Victoria

Fishermen and traders in Kisumu’s Lwang’ni beach manually remove water hyacinth /JUSTUS OCHIENG
Fishermen and traders in Kisumu’s Lwang’ni beach manually remove water hyacinth /JUSTUS OCHIENG

King David sat on the shores of Lake Victoria entangled in a throne of thick green hyacinth leaves now ruling the water kingdom.

Towering over Lwang'ni beach like a king that he was built to be, but helpless as a turtle on its back, the 24 seater boat had gathered moss after months of

At the beach, sweet tales of the great King David are told, about how stable it remained as it roared in the deeps of the lake to a far island before his sudden fall.

The story of this boat started just like King David's of the Bible, rising to glory after beating other Goliath boats, before a sudden fall trapped under the striking beauty of Bathsheba, the hyacinth.

This boat won many races in the water earning him the great title, but one night, as it awed at the beauty of the lake, dark green hyacinth with sweet smelling flowers had it under her arms, never letting go.

Their only hope now is in the winds, pun intended. Two months now, the wind has blown over them, forcing the thick weed to dance to its tune. When it passed, the hyacinth held tight.

But he is now alone, next to him and far beyond, many boat remain trapped under the thick hands of the water hyacinth that has for decades now invaded the largest freshwater lake in the country.

This festive season, King David and his friends sat pretty as tourists turned their back at him after finding a 'forest' where once existed a beach.

The greatest bearers of the brunt are the boat riders who toiled day in, day out to bring King David to the throne.

Joseph Odhiambo who was busking in the evening sun rushes towards me smiling as I approached him. His smile however fades away as I introduce myself.

“I was hoping you are a client who wants to be showed around the city. Nowadays, we sit here waiting for people looking for local guides,” he announced.

For more than 14 years, Joseph has been a coxswain at Lwang’ni beach. But every once in a while, he went on compulsory leave when the hyacinth got to the shore.

“The hyacinth has a love for this place because the lake curves more to the inside forming a corner where they settle,” he explained.

“Unless a strong wind blows them away, they don't move. We woke up one day to find them here, we might wake up tomorrow and find it gone, but that's only expected in April. The wind is too weak now”.

December has typically the peak of tourism,with local and non-locals flooding to the beach to enjoy fresh fish, boat rides and other recreational activities. During such times, the father of three said he could make up to Sh30,000.

“The boat has a capacity of 24 and for each round trip, I charge Sh300 per person. Weekends and festivities are usually very busy,” he narrated.

But the past December has been different. The returns from working as tourist guide cannot be relied upon. Even though his wife who sells vegetables in a kiosk chips in, there is only very little to live on.

“There are many people turning away disappointed. Some don't return since they do not know how long the weed will be here. All businesses are suffering,” he said.

As businesses continues to sink in the menace, so does the aquatic life from lack of sunlight. Behind, snakes are left to feast on trapped fish, and intruding fishermen leave the water with a bite.

“Some are poisonous, some are not, but who wants to be beaten by a snake? Once invaded, we give way,” said Thomas Odongo, a boat rider at Dunga Beach.

Mosquitoes too thrive in this thick weed and the residents know too well how dangerous the tiny animals are.

“Venom from a snake kills you instantly, but malaria doesn't. It makes you count all your sins in tears, it tortures the people watching you waste away and it paralyzes everything. It is worse when it hits your child,” said Marion Akoth, mother of two who leaves near Dunga.

The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) approximates the weed's coverage at about18,000 hectares of the lake, and it has been steadily increasing to to thousands of hectares every month.

KMFRI assistant director Dr Christopher Aura, attributed the growth of the weed to increased water temperature of about 28 degrees.

In Kisumu, for example, popular sites by the lake such as Lwang'ni beach, Dunga Hill Camp and Hippo Point are no longer navigable, thanks to the green hyacinth carpet.

On Jamhuri day last year, Kisumu County governor Anyang' Nyong'o promised that 2019, he would point every gun at the hyacinth.

“The year 2019 is a year to deal with hyacinth finally and decisively and this I promise I will do,” he said.

Last year, a Parliamentary Select Committee criticised the Ministry of Environment after it emerged that a Sh80 million water hyacinth harvester is lying idle at the Kisumu pier for the last three years.

“It is saddening that water hyacinth is here with us and yet we are having a machine that is lying idle,” said Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda of the Committee on Regional Integration.

It is estimated that the machine can remove about seven hectares of the weed from the lake daily, with Lake Victoria Basin Commission LVBC saying it bought trucks to ferry the weed once removed.

Experts have predicted the coverage of the weed to increase in the coming months.

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