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Restoring lake victoria's lost glory

Zachary Ochieng

A regional organization is determined to conserve Lake Victoria and its resources. The East African Communities Organization for the management of Lake Victoria resources (ECOVIC) is a regional forum of civil society organizations (CSOs) around the Lake Victoria basin. ECOVIC was formed in 1998 in Jinja Uganda and registered in Mwanza as an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with regional head quarters in Mwanza, Tanzania. The organization has chapters in the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and works with a riparian population of over 30 million people. The Kenya chapter is headed by Mrs Mary Amwata and has its offices in the lake side Western town of Homa-Bay. ECOVIC was formed in the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Declaration, Agenda 21). It follows closely the strategies adopted by the Helsinki Commission and borrows a leaf of success - particularly the involvement of civil societies - from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

According to ECOVIC's regional director Mr. Kinya Munyirwa, the idea of bringing together civil society organizations to spearhead the restoration of Lake Victoria was conceived as a result of the concern arising from the deteriorating environmental conditions. Munyirwa, who was recently in the country for a tour of the Kenya chapter offices and its projects observed: "The high population growth rate and unsustainable exploitation of the natural resource base is fast eroding the livelihood of the people. The water hyacinth menace, the dwindling fisheries resources due to over fishing and mismanagement, the destruction of catchment areas due to poor land use practices were leading to a major environmental crisis. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on the people living around the lake. It is against this background that ECOVIC was formed".

On account of its strategic location and the development challenge that the lake presents, the East African community member states have designated the lake and its basin as an "area of common economic interest". Munyirwa adds: "In their intervention, the EAC partner states are determined to reverse the environmental degradation in the lake basin and promote its sustainable development. This intervention measure seeks to uplift the standards of the people, maintain the ecological balance and ensure the survival of the varied fauna and flora of the lake and its basin". According to Kenya chapter's administrative Secretary Mr. Erastus Orwa, there are several organizations involved in various restoration activities within the Lake Victoria basin. But few of them - if any - have well - spelt out guidelines of integrating the local community needs. "It is this gap that ECOVIC seeks to fill," he notes. ECOVIC thus provides a forum that allows the communities to fully participate in activities that ensure sound environmental management and socio-economic development.

ECOVIC's objectives include working to promote and coordinate economically viable natural resource utilizations that maintain Biodiversity and safeguard the aquatic ecosystem. Others include gathering and dissemination of information on key environmental and socio-economic issues within the lake region, research, lobby and advocacy for favourable policies and community participation on issues affecting lake Victoria and its basin. The organization also aims to promote improvement in food security in the lake region through sustainable agriculture and quota system in the use of fisheries resources, promote proper sanitation and hygienic conditions along the fish landing beaches and on the lake's islands and to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the communities in the lake region.

To ensure its success in operations, ECOVIC has established collaborative linkages with both local, regional and international organisations concerned with environmental conservation. They include among others the East African Community (EAC), the Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Estonia, Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) and Lake Victoria Region Local Authorities Co operation (LVRLAC). Networks have also been developed with the International Collective Support of Fishworker (ICSF), India, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Canada and the INFORSE Network in Denmark.

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