Climate and Environment Local

Lake Victoria Flooding: A Tale of Resilience, Tragedy, and Climate Migration

BY TOM OGALO AND HEDWIG ARINAITWE

In the quiet village of Orongo, nestled along the shores of Lake Victoria, Mr. Okedo, an 85-year-old man, finds himself in the midst of a perilous situation. His mud-thatched house, once a symbol of stability, now stands surrounded by floodwaters, leaving his family’s safety hanging by a thread.

“On a Tuesday morning, while I collected flood response materials as part of a youth drive, I received a call from a resident in Orongo, who was concerned as the floods had escalated,” recounts Tom Ogalo, one of the local volunteers.

Mr. Okedo stands at the door of his mud-thatched house, holding a walking stick, as he gazes at the floodwaters encroaching upon his home, symbolizing the precariousness of his family’s safety. PHOTO BY TOM OGALO.

Lake Victoria, with its vast drainage area spanning 183,000 square kilometers, holds a pivotal role in East Africa’s ecosystem. As the source of the River Nile and fed by 23 rivers and tributaries, its waters sustain livelihoods across the region. However, with 80% of its water directly sourced from rainfall, fluctuations in rainfall patterns directly impact the lake’s water levels.

Currently, the lake is swelling beyond its bounds, encroaching upon the Orongo community with relentless force. “Half of the village is already submerged in water,” reports Hedwig Arinaitwe, reflecting on the dire situation faced by the residents.

As meteorological authorities and Kenya Red Cross issue alerts warning of continued heavy rains and the threat of lake backflow, the plight of Orongo is emblematic of a larger crisis unfolding across East Africa. In recent weeks, torrential rains have wreaked havoc in Kenya, claiming over 200 lives, displacing countless families, and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

“The heavy rains began in March, resulting in devastating floods that have affected nearly 600,000 people,” reveals a United Nations report, underscoring the severity of the situation.

The two young girls stand bravely in the dirty floodwaters, showing their strength and determination in the difficult situation. PHOTO BY TOM OGALO.

Across the border in Uganda, the Kasenyi fish landing site paints a picture of desolation. Once a bustling hub of trade and commerce, it now lies submerged beneath the rising waters of Lake Victoria. For business owners like Resty Nanoozi, the challenges are overwhelming.

“Apart from the increasing fish prices, when it floods you have to pay the fishmongers to carry you and help save your business. It’s extremely challenging,” laments Nanoozi, her voice heavy with resignation.

Herbert Ssenoga, a fishmonger at the Kasenyi landing site, points a finger at the root cause of the rising water levels. “The wetlands, which serve as natural reservoirs, have been drained and replaced with skyscrapers. The water, with nowhere else to go, flows back into the lake,” he explains, highlighting the detrimental effects of human encroachment on fragile ecosystems.

George William Omony, manager of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority, provides insights into the ongoing crisis. “The water level is likely to keep rising due to excess rains,” he warns, citing data collected on Lake Victoria’s water level fluctuations.

Kiosks at Kasenyi Landing Site rise above floodwaters, floating on Lake Victoria’s Ugandan side. A striking image of resilience amidst nature’s challenges. PHOTO BY HEDWIG ARINAITWE.

However, amidst the chaos and despair, there is a glaring absence of support from humanitarian organizations and government authorities. “We have spotted three pythons roaming around the submerged houses, and we are all scared for our lives,” reveals Obonyo, a small-scale farmer, underscoring the urgent need for assistance.

In Orongo, displaced individuals who sought refuge in schools were abruptly forced to vacate as the academic term commenced, leaving them vulnerable to the impending floods once again.

A comprehensive report from ResearchGate sheds light on the historical fluctuations of Lake Victoria’s water levels over the past century. These fluctuations, often unpredictable, have reached unprecedented heights due to the current heavy rainfall, resulting in widespread flooding and destruction.

The flooding in neighboring communities has not only disrupted lives and livelihoods but also raised the specter of climate migration. With their homes inundated and their futures uncertain, residents find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

In the face of adversity, Christine Akinyi, an environmental and Climate Action officer at Jijenge Youth Organization, advocates for proactive measures to mitigate the effects of flooding. “Weather predictions and early warnings are crucial for preparing long-term adaptation plans, ensuring communities are better equipped to handle the impact of extreme weather events,” she asserts, highlighting the importance of foresight and preparedness in tackling climate-related challenges.

As Lake Victoria continues to swell, inundating communities and displacing families, the call for action grows louder. It is imperative that governments, humanitarian organizations, and community leaders unite in a concerted effort to address the immediate needs of those affected and implement sustainable solutions to mitigate future disasters.

In the face of adversity, the resilience of the East African people shines through. Though battered and bruised, they stand united in their determination to weather the storm and rebuild their lives amidst the rising tides of uncertainty.

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