2. Uphill fight for Lake Nakuru

Posted: 17 January 2001

Author: Phil Smith

The pink flamingoes that feed along the shorelines of Kenya's Lake Nakuru attract more than 100,000 tourists every year. But the tourist image hides the truth: Nakuru town and National Park are suffering an environmental and human problem.

Lake Nakuru dominates the National Park where there is an intricate number of habitats for wildlife. The park is a Ramsar site - a protected wetland - as well as a rhino sanctuary.

Flamingos on Lake Nakuru© M & C Denis-HuotKenya Bios/Still PicturesBut high human birth rates and an increasingly dense population has meant that forests are cleared for farm land. The result is that during the rainy season huge gullies open up in the remaining fragile soils and steep slopes with topsoil being washed into the streams serving Lake Nakuru. The few remaining trees are placed under further stress as their lower branches are removed for fuel. Local women regularly spend three to four hours a day searching for wood.

At the same time Nakuru is growing - it is now the fourth largest town in Kenya - and its population of 250,000 produces large quantities of domestic and urban waste. A tannery, agro-chemical plant and battery factory all discharge their waste into the town's sewers, creating a dangerous cocktail of pollutants. The amount of local domestic waste has overwhelmed the existing water treatment plants. The result is that sewage is discharged directly into the streams which serve the lake.

In the face of this crisis, local groups are developing activities to reverse the tide of environmental destruction. The local branch of the WWF, with the help of various projects are promoting sustainable practices among rural communities by demonstration and education. But they also encourage environmental issues to be considered by policy and decision makers in the towns.

Education centre

An education centre has been developed at the edge of Nakuru town, close to the park gates where WWF holds courses on environmental education in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the management of the park.

Local people including schoolchildren, teachers, village chiefs, church groups and government officials learn how their activities affect their environment. Many are taken into the park, often for the first time, to see what is on the other side of the fence. They also learn how the park earns money from tourism for the local community. A proportion of the revenue raised is allocated to the local community. This education has to he followed with practical advice and WWF has been running workshops at a small centre outside town. Women's groups attend the workshops where they are shown how to grow and plant trees and are taught about soil conservation, composting and agroforestry. To the women farmers these techniques are not only good for the environment upon which their livelihood depends, but they ease the burden of work by increasing the output of their farms. The fuel-efficient 'jiko' stoves, promoted by the project, use half as much wood as the traditional three stone fires. The commitment of the local people is the essential ingredient for the success of any sustainable development project. Although Nakuru faces an uphill battle to turn the environmental degradation around, it would seem to he moving in the right direction.

Philip Smith is former Editor of WWF News, UK.