The existence of lakes owes much to the presence of catchment areas or water towers, from where they derive some or a majority of their waters. One such example of a catchment area is the Mount Elgon catchment, a transboundary catchment situated at the border between Kenya and Uganda. On the Kenyan side, the catchment consists of a 73,705 hectares forest managed by Kenya Forest Service, a 17,200 hectares nature reserve managed by the Bungoma County Government and a 16,916 hectares national park under the custody of Kenya Wildlife Service (Nabutola et al., 2022). On the Ugandan side lies the Mount Elgon National Park managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority. The catchment forms the headwaters of rivers Nzoia, Sio and Suam. River Nzoia contributes about 3721 million cubic meters of water annually to Lake Victoria (Odwori, 2022), while River Sio discharges about 10.3m3/s of water into the same great lake (Cosmus n.d). River Suam, which originates from Mount Elgon on Ugandan side empties into Lake Turkana and (together with Kerio river) accounts for about 10% of the lakes water budget (Olago & Odada, 2019). The Suam River changes name downstream to River Turkwel.
Before emptying into the great lakes, these rivers serve millions of people residing adjacent them through provision of water for domestic and industrial use, facilitating tourism and recreational facilities such as boating services, enhancing fishing activities, hydroelectric power generation, and irrigation which boost agricultural production. The annual floods in the rivers provide fertile sediments in lowland plains downstream which nourish the soils resulting in increased agricultural production. However, despite all these benefits the people and the great lakes accrue from the presence of these rivers, the forested Mount Elgon catchment continues to experience dynamic influences emanating mainly from anthropogenic activities such as deforestation, agriculture, sand-mining and logging (Nabutola et al., 2022). With a booming population witnessed in the region, the demand for more land to cultivate is rising and also the extraction of natural resources is increasing. The need for more land for settlement and cultivation has resulted to forest encroachment and clearing of ecologically fragile lands. These ecologically fragile zones include swamps, steep slopes and riverbanks. As a result, the frequency of landslides and flooding events in the catchment have also increased and with a changing climate, there is risk of an increase in the frequency and severity of such events, threatening the livelihoods of the millions of people (Wanyama et al., 2020). Soil erosion in the cultivated and mined landscapes results to an increased sediment deposition into the rivers which ultimately end up into the great lakes, contributing to silting in the riverine and lacustrine terrains.
Diminished forest cover emanating from forest encroachment and tree logging within the settled landscapes threatens to reduce the amount of water flowing out of the catchment, therefore jeopardizing the lives of the people and other flora-faunal species which depend on the existence of these rivers downstream. Reduced inflow will also be witnessed into Lake Turkana and Lake Victoria. To address such threats, there is a need to have an integrated and proper management of the Mt Elgon catchment. This will involve bringing together relevant governmental organs, local community-based organizations and various residents of the region to chart the way forward for protecting this important water tower. In addition, the respective county/ local and national governments should formulate and enforce laws governing the protection of this important water tower. Activities such as agroforestry practices and reforestation activities should also be upscaled in the region with the right tree species being planted. The gazettement and protection of two Mt Elgon National Parks, one on each side of the international border of Kenya and Uganda, is a welcome step towards curbing further encroachment. These efforts will also go along the way in the realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, and Life on Land (United Nations, 2015). In aligning the above message with the African Great Lakes Information’s themes of Balancing Conservation and Development, Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Benefits and Population Dynamics, Health and the Environment, the residents are also urged to practice proper land use practices which will minimize soil erosion and which will help to mitigate the impacts of floods and landslides within the region. In addition, cultivation in fragile ecological zones such as the riparian riverine zones, swamps and steep slope zones should be highly discouraged.
1. Cosmus Muli (n.d): Basin Characteristics and Issues: Sio-Malaba-Malakisi River Basin, Kenya/Uganda https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/smm_river_basin_characteristics_and_key_issues.pdf
3. Odwori, E. O. (2022). Effect of Rainfall and Temperature Variability on Streamflow in Nzoia River Basin, Kenya. Asian Journal of Advanced Research and Reports, 16(5), Article 5. https://doi.org/10.9734/ajarr/2022/v16i530473
4. Olago, D. O., & Odada, E. O. (2019). Some Aspects of the Physical and Chemical Dynamics of a Large Rift Lake: The Lake Turkana North Basin, Northwest Kenya. In Limnology, Climatology and Paleoclimatology of the East African Lakes. Routledge.
5. United Nations 2015: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development https://sdgs.un.org/goals
6. Wanyama, D., Moore, N., & Dahlin, K. (2020). Persistent vegetation greening and browning trends related to natural and human activities in the mount Elgon ecosystem. Remote Sensing, Query date: 2022-06-22 05:07:54. https://www.mdpi.com/758494