Since the beginning of the month the Vision Group’s various platforms have been writing articles on the train crash in progress that is Lake Victoria.
We are polluting, depleting and generally treating the lake so badly that at the current rate of doing things, there is a real danger of the lake drying up in our life time.
For anybody who has taken a cruise on the lake and had a flitting sense of its vastness it is hard to get your head around the possibility of its extinction.
But it has happened before and not very far from us. A series of satellite images comparing the lake which is shared by Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon is about a tenth the size now than it was in 1973. A combination of averse weather and wanton use of its waters for irrigation has led to that sad situation.
The lake is fast becoming a cess pool with National Water & Sewerage Corporation being forced to shell out sh700b to not only reach further into the lake to collect water but also to build another water treatment plant.
Fish stock has dwindled to almost nothing threatening lake side communities and at the heart of a simmering dispute between Kenya and Uganda.
But also last week a series of reports were released which showed the general health of our population is not where it is supposed to be.
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey showed that one in three children or five million children are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Health officials also fear that the hypertension is likely to become the leading cause of death in the country in less than a decade.
Sadly this is all happening not through any events out of our control. The dwindling lake and the failures of our health may one day – hopefully not, be used to illustrate the old say, a stitch in time saves nine.
Around the lake, shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania we are deforesting the catchment areas and draining the wetlands, which act as natural filters for water streaming into the lake.
Spiritual leader the Dalai Lama when asked what surprised him about human beings said, “He sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.”
A hangover from economic trying times is our wish to look up to fatter people, their excess weight suggested better feeding and therefore greater affluence.
By the time the NRA rolled into town in 1986 the economy of Uganda had retreated to a subsistence economy. Manufacturing and processing was at an all-time low. So not only was food in shorter supply it was eaten right off the stalk with no processing in between.
As unimaginable as it sounds, as recently as the early nineties there were no fast food outlets in the Kampala and you could not eat in the city on a Sunday.
As we became more affluent and lived a little longer previously rarely heard about ailments like hypertension, diabetes, gout and a host of others reared their ugly heads. And for a brief and bizarre moment these conditions were considered status symbols.
But our eating habits aside we have taken on a more sedentary lifestyle, with its most clear manifestation is – as one friend likes to joke, that we now mostly travel while seating.
There was a time not long ago when it was not unusual to walk from Wandegeya to town.
The urgent need for economic growth is forcing us to look the other way as things go wrong in our environment and health, at the back of our heads we think we shall redress the damage when we are wealthier.
It starts with knowledge.
Having environmental and health studies as examinable subjects much earlier in the school curriculum would be useful in creating the critical mass of people to regulate the issues. Keeping thee issues at the center of our daily discussions should be encouraged.
Even the so-called poverty related illnesses like malnutrition can mitigated against with better knowledge of basic nutrition.
We don’t have to wait for oil to suffer the resource curse, the abuse of our abundant environment – Uganda has almost half of all the arable land in the region and is 20% covered by water, is causing us to take our abundance for granted. We have been seduced into believing these are infinite and renewable resources.
We treat our health the same way.
Is it a chicken and egg situation? Do we treat our environment badly because we treat ourselves badly or is it the other way around.
Regardless we need to get stitching or we will one day bne looking back and wondering where did it all go wrong.