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Rift Valley. I have of course heard of the area and seen it on a few documentaries over the years but to be actually going to an area renowned for its beauty and wildlife is something so different it is hard to explain. My trip of a lifetime was made even more special, as it coincided with the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s independence.
I had no idea about the ongoing issue of the lakes flooding when I was preparing to fly out to Kenya. I first heard of it when my friend said that she hoped that the lakes hadn’t risen any more. I then read an article on the flooding in the ‘Saturday Nation.’ I was only too happy to be given the task of writing about the crisis in a feature.
There have been a number of stories about the flooding of the lakes in the Rift Valley over the last few years.
I was in Kenya to visit my friend who is a teacher in Nairobi and after her school broke up for the holidays we had arranged to partake in a road trip visiting destinations on the Nakuru, Baringo and Naivasha Lakes.
I did not expect the differing responses and explanations I was going to hear: or the sadness that the slowly creeping water would enshroud me in.
On the way to our first port of call, Lion Hill, in the Nakuru National Park as we approached the park we noticed that we could not use the main gate as the road beyond it, which we should use, was flooded. It was a bit of a shock to notice that the offices that used to be alongside the gate were now heavily flooded and standing in metres of water. My friend commented that the last time she was there that the lake was not up so far.
Further problems occurred when we actually drove in another gate due to the fact that many of the roads were completely gone and so finding our way around was difficult.
Later, talking to an employee in the Nakuru Park I found out that there were concerns that the rising lake was having a knock on effect to the tourism in the area. The employee was under the impression that the water was rising due to deforestation and rain
During a ride around the park, Charles, our driver said he thought that it was the amount of rain that had fallen causing the lake to flood. Yet, when I asked him why the waterfall was not full, as one would expect it to be with the amount of flooding occurring, he told me that it was a different sort of water which baffled me.
I was horrified by the drastic changes that the driver and my friend were explaining about the area. There
was a paucity of Flamingos and you could not walk out to the base of the lake as you were able to previously due to several metres of flood water. In fact looking out at the lake you realised that there used to be a road junction in the vicinity. The only reason that I noticed this was because I saw a road sign slowly sinking 20 metres out into the lake.
The next stop was Lake Baringo and Island Camp. We stopped to pay to get into the park. When we did a man approached the car. His mission was simple. He was asking me for a donation so the community could rebuild a local orphanage as the old one had been wiped out in the flooding. This man thought that deforestation had something to do with the water levels rising in the lake.
Driving along the road towards Island Camp I noticed that the river beds were not flowing, they were as dry as a bone, even the river that my friend said always had water in it, yet, in contrast the lakes were flooding the dry areas. We had to drive all over the bush to
get to the jetty for a boat to take us to our hotel as the original road and jetty was now under water.
As we were boarding at the new jetty the guide pointed to the right of us saying that there was a petrol station under the water and the hotel that stood there was now flooded.
When we were pulling up to the new landing spot on the island I found it pretty chilling that the old reception was actually beneath our boat and that tent number one was also under the water along with six other tents.
During our stay my travel companion mentioned that there was a lack of birds and other animals on the island that were normally seen during previous holidays.
I started to converse with the island’s part owner, Perry Hennesey. When I asked what he thought was happening with the flooding he said: “I think that it is a cycle that we have never seen before things change after a while. It might be that there are no people alive today who saw this cycle the last time around.”
“I was talking to a village elder the other day who said that we would experience this rain until April. It is alarming there is so much water in the lake. A friend had a house and it flooded and then the waters receded in April and so she moved back into her house and then by the following August the house was flooded again by nine metres. Now she is in a house further up but the lake is still rising.”
Other visitors to the camp were also as surprised by the changes in the lake and island.
Perry explained that his fish farm had disappeared since the last time the other holiday makers
were on the island. Not to mention the fact that I thought there were two other islands across the way but they were actually the same island I was standing on. It was scary to think that the nest of three islands used to be one and it served to remind me of the destructive power of water.
During a boat ride on the second day at Island Camp the guide told us that the Hippos were going to a different part of the lake as their usual habitat was too steep for them to get out of the water now-a-days. The hot spas were now under the water and if you looked closely
you could see the bubbles coming up to the surface. It was disturbing to think how many tourists before me had been able to get off the boats and take a look at the spas. I then wondered what would be the case if I return and if the water recedes will I be able to see the beauty that is lost. ‘If’ being the operative word here: or will they sink even further under the water.
A more unsettling issue struck me as we sailed past a hospital in one area of the lake which was very much under water; it was alarming to see ‘CDF Project Kokwa Maternity Wing’ written on the top of the building. This brought many questions to my mind; where were the women going to deliver their babies now, what was happening to them and how safe were the mothers and babies?
Sailing back to the mainland after we finished our stay I reflected on how sad it would be for Perry to lose more tents or the whole section of the island his business is on. The area is so beautiful and tranquil. It is a precarious way for anyone to live with the knowledge that they are slowly drowning, literally.
Our next stop took us to Elsamere next to Lake Naivasha I must confess that we did not see much of the lake except from a distance but it had risen about nine feet according to an employee. Again, after asking the question did they know why the lake was rising two employees had different ideas one being the rain and the other said it was down to deforestation, siltation and the fact that a tribe has been removed from their land by the President and the trees are no longer being taken care of in the proper way.
If you ask, everyone has their own ideas on why the water in the lakes are rising: from tectonic plates, rainfall, deforestation, in one case something to
do with the Aswan Dam or Lake Victoria but the fact is no one knows what is happening. (Or if they do they are not telling.) Perry from Island Camp asked the most important question though: “Thousands of people have been displaced so why is nothing being done about this situation?” I must admit I would like to know the answer to this question too.
If this crisis is not monitored and dealt with properly, it could have even more serious effects, on not just the people who live in the surrounding areas, but the wildlife, tourism and the way of life in this hauntingly beautiful region.