Kenyans fear ‘ecological disaster’ if two swollen lakes merge

JACKSON NJEHIA

Lake Baringo, one of the most northern of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, is visible at the top of the image. With a surface area of 130 sq km and an elevation of around 970 m, the lake has an average depth of around 5 m and it is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley.
South of Lake Baringo lies Lake Bogoria – a saline, alkaline lake. The long and narrow lake has an area of around 30 sq km and is around 10 m deep. Lake Bogoria provides refuge for the lesser flamingo, with a population of around 1 to 1.5 million, and also supports more than 300 waterbird species. The lake is a designated Ramsar site and is also part of the Lake Bogoria National Reserve.

THE fresh waters of Kenya’s Lake Baringo teem with birds, fish, hippopotamuses and crocodiles and sustain tens of thousands of people. But none of them can survive in the alkaline Lake Bogoria nearby.

Now heavy rainfall and ecological destruction mean the two lakes are rising and may merge. “It will be an ecological disaster if the two lakes meet … There is only a small gap left,” said Jackson Komen, senior warden for the government-run Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for Lake Baringo conservation area.

Baringo, which irrigates land and provides driking water, has expanded 60% to 270 square kilometres (105 square miles) in the last seven years, he said. Lake Bogoria has swollen by a quarter to 43 square kilometres.

Conservationists said the rising waters are due to combination of unusually heavy rains and the silting up of the lakes.

Tor-Gunnar Vanegen, a scientist at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry centre, said deforestation was causing erosion on nearby Tugen hills and the soil was washing into lake.

“That siltation is causing the shallow lake to rise,” he told Reuters.

The flooding is driving farmers from their land and residents from their homes.

Three generations of Roberts grew up on Baringo’s shores but the thatched roofs of their safari camp are now forlorn islands surrounded by water. The distance between the two lakes has halved.

“It is disheartening to watch the work that was done by your father and mother, and the work we have done ourselves, being destroyed by water,” said Murray Roberts, whose father built the camp.

Farmers say their grazing has been destroyed.

“I now have to start all over at new grounds. For now I live with my son close by,” said Lechaki Parsaalach, who has lost nine acres of land and his home. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.