Copy-of-boat-heading-back-to-walumbe-village

‘We are in trouble,’ Lake Victoria fishers cry out as plastics accumulate in the lake

Hadija Jumanne, Mwananchi : hjumanne@mwananchi.co.tz

  • Most villages in Tanzania do not have even a single litter bin.
  • In many parts of the shores of Lake Victoria, plastics are everywhere.
  • The fishing community is blamed for using illegal fishing nets made out of plastic
  • A 2015 study conducted in the Mwanza region of Tanzania found evidence of microplastics in at least 20% of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) species.

 In Chifunfu Village, a lakeside village in Chifunfu Ward, Katunguru division on Lake Victoria’s Tanzania side, life is pretty busy. 

People from all walks of life, mostly youths and women from the neighboring nine neighborhoods, come in and out. They do all sorts of work: fish, sell fish, manufacture canoes and fishing nets, sell foodstuff, do casual works, to mention but a few.

Amidst this busy and highly populated village, something important is lacking; dust bins. The village does not have even a single litter bin.

The ever-increasing population in the village produces massive waste. Most of it plastics, left to litter around the village, putting people and the environment at a huge risk.

The mineral water plastic bottles, polythene bags, plastic cups, and plates, mention it, all are right there, just littering. And most of them are blown by the wind into Lake Victoria. Others are given a free lift by running water that drops them into the lake.  

“Ever since I started manufacturing canoes 10 years ago, I have never seen an environment officer or health officer here educating us about how to manage plastic waste,” narrates Manyasa Lunemya, a fisherman in Chifunfu village. 

“In many parts of the shores of Lake Victoria, plastics are everywhere. They are just in the water. And it is this water we use for various domestic purposes,” laments Lunemya, further stressing that “we are in trouble.” 

Like Lunemya, Victory Kasuku, a veteran fisher at Vodacom fishing camp, says the situation is worrying.

“We have nowhere to dump them,” he notes, further challenging local authorities to do, “something.”

Who is to blame? 

Denis Tilwosaho, is the head of the Chifunfu village government, blames this on a shortage of health and sanitation workers. 

He says his village has only one health officer who serves nine neighborhoods with 280 households and a total population of 18,000 people.

“Every neighborhood was supposed to have a health officer or a health care provider, but we have only one health care provider for all the neighborhoods,” says Tilwosaho.

As a result of this, Tilwasaho laments that villagers now lack information about managing their plastics effectively.

The village leader also blames the Sengerema district council for failing to provide waste storage equipment to his village.  

“In 2017, I request waste storage equipment from Sengerema district council to handle three tons of wastes in the area to reduce the impact of pollution but all in vain,” says Tilwosaho.

But Faida Majaliwa, the fisheries officer for Chifunfu shore, blames this on the residents who throw garbage everywhere and refuse to turn up whenever called for waste management sensitization meetings. 

“Our fishing communities spend most of the time fishing, so when you call them for a meeting, they come in small numbers,” says Majaliwa.

Likewise, Redempta Samuel, Manager of the National Environment Management Council (Nemec), Lake Victoria region, says communities along the lake are the major contributors of plastic wastes that accumulate into the lake.

“Communities on the shores of the lake are unaware of the effects of dumping wastes, so they have continued to dump wastes that flow into rivers and Lake Victoria,” she says.

The fishing community is also blamed for using illegal fishing nets made out of plastic.

The plastic nylon monofilament fishing nets do not rot when discarded. Tanzania’s government banned them, but some fishers still use them.

When they grow old, most of these are discarded into the lake by the fishers. This is according to some residents of Chifunfu village.

Fisheries Officer from Chifunfu shore, located in Katunguru Division, Sengerema District, Faida Majaliwa (left) showing and speaking to Hadija Jumanne, a Timba type net that has been banned by the Government, the net has the ability to stay afloat 200 years without decay, and thus dangerous for aquatic organisms. Photo by Hadija Jumanne.

How serious is the plastic pollution problem?

A 2015 study conducted in the Mwanza region of Tanzania found evidence of microplastics in at least 20% of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) species.

“Plastic wastes produce toxins that cause fish to suffocate to death. Others affect their reproduction capacity,” notes Ally Salim, head of the Sengerema District Transport and Environment Department in the Mwanza region.

Salim suggests that this could be why fish-catch in the lake has been reducing over the years. A decline in fish catch, he says, has led to a decline in the revenue collections from fish for the district council.  

He also laments that people are consuming poisonous fish unknowingly, which could be why some cancer, stillbirth, and infertility cases are registered in the region. 

“Unfortunately, we who are regular fish eaters do not test the fish for any dangerous chemicals. We buy, cook, and eat, but you could have eaten poison unknowingly,” he says.

According to Salim, the longer the plastic waste remains in the water, the more toxins it produces.

“In the lake or sea, we estimate that plastic bags can last for 50 to 200 years without rotting,” says Salim, further noting that “they do not rot when they are placed on land, so when they enter soils, they damage its fertility,” Salim reveals.

This, he says, is partly to blame for soil infertility in some parts of the region. 

Also, the plastic wastes have not spared the ships and boats on Lake Victoria.

“For example, there was a day when the ferry had trouble after plastic bags got stuck in its engine and the ferry failed to move,” narrates Salim. 

According to Salim, some livestock have died in the area in the past after consuming parts of indigestible plastic bottles and polythene bags. 

Joyce Mganga, veterinarian with Sengerema district council, describes such a condition as “plastic disease,” an ailment characterized by blockage of the digestion canal in four-legged animals, such as goats, sheep, and cattle.  

She says such cases do occur in the region. Mganga recalls a 2017 case that involved a cow that had eaten a plastic bag, but a team of experts, including her, perform surgery and successfully remove the plastic bag from the cow’s stomach. They stitched the cow, and it recovered successfully.

She narrates that regularly, they find plastics in the intestines of livestock slaughtered in the abattoirs they inspect.

 “When we go to inspect the abattoirs, we notice in the intestines of the animals that they ate plastic,” she says.

Other pollutants 

According to Gerald Itumbula, public officer for Victoria Lake Basin Water Board (LVBWB), more than 10 studies have been conducted by his organization in the past 10 years focused on Lake Victoria’s quality.

One of these studies, conducted from 2011 to 2016, found that the high levels of pollution in Lake Victoria’s water result from human activities, including poor waste management, agricultural and industrial activities along the lake shores. 

The report investigated water samples from 29 sites in and out of Lake Victoria on the Tanzanian side to ascertain water quality and the amount of oxygen.

Trumbull says the study found high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels on the lake’s shores compared with areas deep into the lake.

Garbage dumps, agricultural fertilizers, and industrial wastewaters are sources of high nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the water. Concentrated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in water have harmful effects on humans and other living organisms.

Moving towards solutions

Tanzania’s Environment Act of 2004, section 109 (1) clearly states that it is an offense for any person to pollute or allow any other person to pollute the environment in violation of any standards specified under this Act or any other law governing pollution of any part of the environment.

The law also stipulates that development activities must be assessed for environmental impact.

The same act prohibits permanent human activities within 60 meters of water sources, preventing damage caused by human activities.

However, culprits are not regularly prosecuted.

But Sengerema district commissioner Emmanuel Kipole says various efforts are underway to implement this law.

 “The care of Lake Victoria is everyone’s responsibility; more education will be provided to the public so that they know how to better care for the environment for all people, especially those living close to water sources,” says Kipple.

According to Kipple, the Vice President’s Office for Union and Environment is also currently drafting regulations on solid waste management, which will help regulate irresponsible disposal of garbage, including plastics.    

 This InfoNile / WanaData story was produced with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation and Code for Africa as part of the WaterCommons initiative and the Code for All Exchange Program, funded by the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy.

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