Environmental Catastrophe

Environmental degradation has become a pertinent challenge forEthiopia. Drying lakes are the latest examples of the worsening condition, which continue to threaten livelihoods in many areas of the country. Although it may seem like only a story to those of us who live far away from these ecosystems, the problem is indeed a real one.

Last Monday, after the evening news, the national television broadcaster, Ethiopian Television (ETV), screened an incredibly disheartening film, featuring the alarming fate of some of our water bodies, that were once beautiful lakes. Some of us felt the alarm bells ringing, although it may be too late.

Time is ticking by fast. It could be too late unless we react with a sense of urgency.

We could be living witnesses to the draining out ofLakeLangeyandLakeHaromaya, formerly known asLakeAlemaya, just like that. Alemaya is said to have once been a resort area, where even members of the royal family used to wade in the lukewarm water and learn how to swim.

This lake was also the water source for the City ofHarar. Over the years, however, the water reservoir was pumped out for irrigation of nearby Khat plantations. The lake ebbed away and the sediment eroded.

This was done right on the door step of one of the highest institutes of learning, where undergraduates studied floriculture before they pursued their higher studies atOklahomaUniversityin theUnited States.

What kind of historical irony is this?

Perhaps environmental protection is not included as a course when studying agriculture.

Lakes are not only resort destinations. They are bodies of water harbouring marine life. They are also breadbaskets for fish mongers.

One such fish monger is a 34-year old man who used to be a member of the fishermen association of Hawassa. He used to support his family by selling fish.

Every day at dawn, he would brave the chilly weather and wade through the water, until his boat moved away from shallow waters. He would then row into deeper waters, away from competitor fishermen, closely followed by his fishing partner.

Once he reaches a certain depth he would throw one end of his fishing net towards the other boat so that they may catch fish as they continued to row down the lake.

A few years ago, he did not have to row that far. Fishes, varying in size and species, were found aplenty near the shores of the lake, especially during high tide.

But that is a bygone story these days. The fisherman and his best friend now have to stay for hours on the lake before they can row back to shore. Even then, the catch is, at times, scanty, unable to provide a daily wage. The two friends have almost abandoned fishing and resorted to looking for other odd jobs, on dry land.

The situation, screened on national television, reveals an agonising picture of the vulnerability of the ecosystem of our country. About 10 years ago, a member of a committee established at the monastery in Zage, a Lake Tana Island, had come all the way to the capital to make an appeal to the concerned authorities.

The alleged issue was the impact of a small dam on the shores of the island. Trees and their footings, laden with soil, crumbled down into the waters of Lake Tana, causing a barrier in communications and access to the churches on the island.

High tide and occasional overflow was caused by the displacement of water. The flooded rivers, which pre-empt their soil loads into the waters of the lakes, do not only cause the shores to overflow, but also deposit silage, which drain the lakes, in the short or long run.

There are other water reservoirs in the extinction danger zone, or at the brink of death, so to speak.

Mohamed Abdi was a green grocer at Alemaya town, a few years back. Visitors going to Harar or Dire Dawa used to drop by at Alemaya to buy fruits and vegetables.

Oranges and lemons were the favourites. Poets and song writers alike had mentioned this virtue of Alemaya, time and time again.  These days, however, residents of Alemaya are bound to remain with hollow saga and nostalgia. There is literally nothing good to speak of about the place.

Lake Abyata, one of the Rift Valley lakes, was once known to be the seasonal resort area, playing host to flamingos and other birds of various species. Its shoreline and hot springs were unique attractions.

Sediments of minerals being mined from some of our lakes also endanger the waters because of evaporation. Many of the small lakes will soon disappear, unless some action is taken.

Lake Haromaya could be a good example for the other lakes and the environment in general. One does not even have to refer to the books to know this.

A book written by Nobel Prize winner, Wagner Matthai, headlined, “The Challenges for Africa”, for instance, rightly shows the dangers of environmental mishandlings.

I always get baffled by the diametrically opposing actions taken to construct terraces to conserve soil and save degraded land from danger, whilst, at the same time, letting charcoal producers beat the roads of Addis Abeba, almost throughout the year.

Incidentally, meteorologists tells us that many parts of the country, these days, are showing a slight decline in temperature and an increase in the volume of rain-bearing clouds. In all likelihood, the clouds are hovering over us and may soon drip down in the form of some much needed rain.

May God bless this land with water so that we can try to recover some of our lost lakes.

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