Lake Baringo

A crocodile basks atop a submerged house in Loruk, Baringo County. Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes have received global attention due to rising water levels, which have displaced thousands of people and pushed communities further inland to new homes as climate change refugees.

| Robert Gichira | Nation Media Group

Reptiles find shelter on rooftops as Rift Valley lakes flood

It is 10am and Paulina Sokome Kibon is preparing tea for breakfast outside their house in Chepkurbei village in Sandai, Baringo County, as her children pack their belongings inside. They will be moving soon.

This will be the third time they will be moving from their home to stay safe from the wrath of nature. The first time, which was last year, the rising waters of Lake Bogoria flooded the home Paulina had lived in since 1991 in Majindege in Loboi. She had to move to Kipruono in March last year – a village located on a higher ground. But as fate would have it, the waters soon reached the village and displaced them.

She sought the help of a relative who allowed her to put up a temporary iron sheet home in Sandai village. However, this has also been flooded and invaded by crocodiles after Waseges River burst its banks.

The reptiles get out of water and bask outside their house early morning, forcing Paulina and her children to stay inside the house for long.

Lake Baringo crocodile

A crocodile basking in the sun near on a rock at Lake Baringo on December 9, 2020.

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

It was not always like this. The nearby alkaline-saline Lake Bogoria has never been a habitat for crocodiles. But Waseges River, which enters on the northern edge of the lake from the Nyandarua Plateau, changed its course due to the Prosopis juliflora aka Mathenge plant, and entered Sandai River, flooding it and letting water into the village surrounded by hills.

“Every morning, we wake up to find crocodiles basking on the stones outside our home. It is scary. We have to move because it is very risky,” she said.

Crocodile attacks

Data from the Ministry of Environment indicate that there have been 19 cases of crocodile attacks in villages surrounding Lake Bogoria and three in areas around Lake Nakuru since June last year.

But crocodiles are not the only problem Paulina and other villagers are facing. The business premises at Loboi Centre where they used to sell their merchandise have all been inundated by the swelling Lake Bogoria.

Now, what used to be their shops have been invaded by flamingos searching for Spirulina alga in the shallow flood waters. Apart from watching the flamingos feed, preen and get trapped by the invasive Mathenge plants as they try to soar, the villagers barely engage in any other activity.

The distress is duplicated in all the Rift Valley lakes which have swollen, displacing people, wildlife and even plants, spelling doom for the ecology of the lakes.

A task force formed by the Ministry of Environment to analyse the situation following rising lake levels said at least 3,080 villagers lost their homes and their livelihoods to the swelling waters of lakes Bogoria, Baringo and Lake 94. Another 500 households in Naivasha, 30,000 people in Turkwel and over 3,000 homesteads in Turkana were also displaced.

The Nation established that those affected were staying in camps like Kalokol in Turkana and Kambi ya Ndege in Baringo. There are those who have rented houses in nearby shopping centres or are being hosted by other community members.

River Wasseges

A child waits for breakfast outside their house near River Wasseges which has flooded Loboi village in Baringo County.  

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

“We have to put up with mosquitoes, snakes, hyraxes and scorpions because we have no other place to go. The water is also dirty because the toilets were submerged. Some children have died as a result of cholera. I cannot even see my home. The water has completely covered it. I lost four goats and all my property. Now my children and I are sleeping in an open ground,” Kalokol, Susan Atai, a resident said, adding that at least three children have drowned since August this year.

At the beach, at least 340 homes have been affected with 133 families having moved, according to Daraja Beach Management Unit chairman, Carlpeters Etaan. They have put up temporary reeds houses at the Kalokol Shopping Centre, 4m from the beach, which still risks being submerged.

Friends of Lake Turkana Community Programmes Coordinator Eunice Ateyo said that 10 people have so far died of cholera in Todonyang’ alone.

“Fishing has been difficult because of the water weed and the volume of water is also too high and risky for the fishermen,” she said.

Lake Bogoria Game Reserve

Houses submerged at the Lake Bogoria Game Reserve. 

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Already, the three major irrigations schemes: Koolioro, Kaitese and Nanyee, which had the highest acreage under crops at 685, 670 and 600 respectively have been completely submerged.

In Lake Baringo, the increase of the lake has occupied additional 4,371 hectares up from the initial 13,737 in 2010 to the current 18,108 hectares, submerging several tourism sites and camps, including the Soy Safari Lodge, Robert Camp in Kokwo and several others.

Tourists

Director of Baringo Tours and Travel, Bashir Mohammed says several employees of the luxurious hotels were now languishing in poverty because they have no other activity to engage in.

“Many hotels have closed, it has really affected our work as tour guides and agencies. Tourists no longer visit like they used to,” Mr Bashir says.

In Turkana, the inundation of beaches has interfered with the cultural heritage of the communities around Lake Turkana. The water has expanded its boundaries to swallow the Napark Camp, St Teresa’s Camp, Kristin’s Camp and several others in Eliye. All of them are now closed, leading to loss of 5,600 jobs.

Government institutions including national game reserves, roads, dispensaries and hospitals, cattle dips, schools, electricity lines, colleges, and parks have been submerged, forcing the state to spend millions of shillings on repair. For example, the Lake Nakuru National Park has spent Sh50 million to rehabilitate the park infrastructure and another Sh105 million to rehabilitate the 20 kilometre road damaged by the rising water levels.

The Marigat-Chemolingot Road has also been cut off by flood waters at Loruk and villagers have to use boats to cross over, even with the risk of being attacked by crocodiles.

Schools affected include Salabani secondary, Ng’ambo Girls, Lake Bogoria Girls’, Ngambo , Sintaan,Kokwo, Leswa, Lorok,Loruk,Loropil, Noosukro, Kiserian, Sokotei and Salabani primary schools.

Flamingos at Lake Bogoria Game Reserve

Flamingos at Lake Bogoria Game Reserve in Baringo County.The birds are dying in hundreds daily as they are trapped by thorny Mathenge plant. 


Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen

In Lake Naivasha, over 20km road network estimated at Sh100 million and power transformers are submerged exposing the community to great risk.

The fragility of the lake ecosystem has also created instability in the ecology of the lakes through the increased input of freshwater, impacting on species resilience. For example, the alkaline lakes provide unique feeding habitats for lesser flamingos whereas the freshwater lakes support important fisheries and agriculture.

Water levels rise on lakes Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria – inscribed on the list of world heritage sites – is a concern since flooding increases lake turbidity and dilutes the saline waters of alkaline lakes and that is why flamingos have migrated away from them.

Wildlife habitats

The water has changed wildlife habitats displacing some while expanding for others like hippos and crocodiles thus bringing them dangerously close to people. The secure rocky islands in Elementaita which usually host large numbers of Great white pelicans and Pink pelicans have been submerged.

A Water Resource Authority study states that more water was found to be flowing underground hence causing ecological changes in terms of water chemistry.

In Lake Baringo, all the rivers that feed it – Waseges-Sandai, Loboi, Emsos and Mogun – have increased in volumes since 2011, but locals say the increase this year was the most intense. Further, River Mpirrich from Ilemane swamp, which drains into Lake Bogoria, is already full and is now causing a flow back into the swamp and Lake 94.

In Turkwel Gorge, the acacia trees that surrounded the lakes have fallen after they were submerged in water, blocking wildlife from accessing the watering points in the lake.

“I settled here in 1986, even before the Turkwel Dam was built. There are years the waters have risen, but I have never seen it reach the level it is now,” Riting Village Elder William Lodomo said. At least, 13 schools with a student population of about 2700 pupils have been affected.

Riting, Sirwat, Murogorio and Chepokachim fishing villages are among most affected, with at least 30 homes having been submerged in each. Others include Kerio village, Turkwel township, Lobokat, Katilu,Kaputir, Lobei-Kotaruk, Kanamkemer and Kangatotha.

“The flooding has really affected our fishing activities. The population of fish has dwindled in places where we used to go for it. Navigating with our boats have also been hard because the water levels are high, and the water uprooted acacia trees and deposited them into the lake ,” a fisherman Henry Masinde said.

Naivasha deputy county commissioner Peter Kisilu expressed concern over hippos attacking people as they graze closer to homes in Kihoto and Karagita while crocodile attacks have been reported in Lake Turkana and Lake Baringo.

Scientists have recommended a thorough study of the Rift Valley lakes and the Nyanzan Lake Victoria to establish a long term solution.

“There are short-term solutions of course to deal with the humanitariam problem, but for the long-term, there is need to study the changes in springs; if they are discharging the same amount they used to, if they have changed in discharge temperature, and their overall behaviours,” Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental Planning and Management at the Kenyatta University Simon Onywere says adding that the situation is worrying.

“Right now, Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo are just 20 kilometres apart and each is rising at a fast rate. They could together with Lake 94 merge soon. In fact, maybe they are already connected underground,” he said.

Environment PS Chris Kiptoo says the situation is of great concern that is why the Cabinet through the advice of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) directed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to set up a multiagency technical team to assess the situation.

The findings of the multi-agency team have already been tabled in parliament by Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko but have not yet been made public.

“The phenomenon started in 2011, and since then, we have had 43 periods of floods – at least two each year. The springs have so much been recharged because of high amounts of water,” he said.

To build resilience, the PS said, the government needs at least Sh4.4 trillion in the next three years, 30 per cent of which will come from internal sources.

“We want to ensure that the strategies are mai-nstreamed in every medium-term plans so that every infrastructure development must factor in all environmental issues including adaptation and resilience issues,” the PS said.

He said that the ministry will also invest in improving the forest cover in the country, saying that the country is striving to attain the 10 per cent forest cover as per the presidential directive by 2022.

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