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Lake Victoria Floods Force Displacement, Hamper Social Distancing Measures

KISUMU CITY, Kenya

Heavy rains that have caused major flooding in and around Lake Victoria over the past two weeks have affected fisheries, restaurants, shops, homes and livelihoods in in Kenya and Uganda, with widespread destruction and displacement. Experts and villagers claim this is the worst flooding since 1963. Local officials in Kenya have appealed to the national government for assistance in an effort to mitigate the problems and to forestall friction among fishing and pastoralist communities.

Kenya News Agency has reported that more than 60 families in Remba Island, Homa Bay County, Kenya have been displaced as rising water lake water levels have submerged homes. Moving inland on the Island has posed extra burdens in maintaining social distancing as recommended by the government to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The fishing industry in Homa Bay County has already been negatively affected: both the ability to catch fish and the ability to sell it has been hampered by the effect of the rising waters and the submersion of at-shore markets. According to information in the Kenya News Agency, County Beach Management Unit chairman, Edward Oremo reports that a number of fisherman have abandoned fishing and some have already moved inland, a situation which is may lead to conflict between fishermen and residents living along the lake.

Crops have been destroyed and beach communities at the shore have been flooded; shops, restaurants, and hotels have been forced to close.

The situation has also brought a fresh human-wildlife conflict as the swelling waters destroyed breeding and feeding zones of hippos, which are now forced out to feed in broad daylight just next to homes.

In the last two weeks, officials from Kenya Wildlife Service have killed three hippos in Kisumu after they strayed into residential areas, threatening the lives of several people.

On April 23, Christopher Aura, a scientist with the Kenya Maritime Fisheries Institute told The Standard: “The waters of Lake Victoria are swelling as a result of climate change. Several rivers are also having levels of water that is draining into the lake.”

The researcher said they are yet to conduct a study on the lake but compared the current rising water levels to another study conducted on Lake Naivasha, which experienced a similar problem.

In Uganda, The Independent reported dislocation of at least 3,000 people, with some ignoring evacuation orders due to personal financial constraints. Village authorities are calling for government intervention but at the same time acknowledge that some of the residents have settled near a swamp in a 200 meter protected zone on the shore of Lake Victoria.

Villagers in the Lugonjo-Nakiwogo zone are resisting removal on the grounds that the situation is “fake news” and have blocked all visitors, including journalists, to the area. However, the area councillors are concerned about a possible outbreak of water-borne diseases due to open defecation as all toilets have been submerged.

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