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Cleaning up Lake Victoria, one source of pollution at a time

  • Cleaning up Lake Victoria, one source of pollution at time

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A new initiative aims to equip fishing boats with electric motors in a Kenyan community on the shores of Lake Victoria, in an effort to curb down water and air pollution from diesel engines, reports Deutsche Welle.

The startup company Asobo encourages fishers to switch to electric outboard engines powered by batteries that are recharged with renewable energy. The company offers a full-service model that includes the rental of the motors, daily recharging of the batteries, training, as well as maintenance and repairs. Asobo’s project receives funding (around €197,000) from the German Federal Ministry of the Environment as part of its International Climate Initiative, which supports private investment in climate-friendly technologies.

"For the community at large, what we are doing is reducing massively CO2 and other emissions into the air, as well as reducing oil pollution into the lake which is all associated with the use of petrol engines. So over time, what we with our model hope to also contribute is a much cleaner environment," said Laurens Friso, co-founder and CEO of ASOBO.

Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the second largest freshwater lake in the world by area, is divided among Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Some 20 to 30 million people live on the lake’s shores and depend on fishing for their livelihoods, an activity threatened by high levels of pollution in the water, overfishing and invasive species. The lake supports unique biodiversity and is the world’s largest freshwater fishery. It is a source of water and hydropower, and, as the source of the White Nile, Lake Victoria is an important asset for the countries in the Nile River Basin.

The ecosystem of Lake Victoria has undergone substantial degradation in the past decades; eutrophication has led to massive algal blooms and waterborne diseases have increased in frequency. Freshwater biodiversity is suffering an ongoing decline and the risk of species extinctions is increasing, according to the IUCN. The introduction of invasive species, such as the Nile perch and the water hyacinth, have disrupted the natural balance of the lake’s ecosystem. To tackle the problem, the Lake Victoria Environment Management Project, implemented by riparian countries, works to improve pollution hotspots and degraded areas.

The sources of pollution in the lake are many and diverse, including domestic and industrial wastewater, garbage, and pesticides. The contribution from conventional boat motors is difficult to quantify, but two-stroke engines release as much as 25-30% of unburned fuel to the water. Asobo’s goal is to replace some 5,000 diesel boat engines with electric motors in the next 5 years. In addition to helping reduce emissions to the air and the water, fishers have an economic advantage: rental expenses for the electric motors are 20-25% less than the expenses associated with running a petrol-powered outboard. “With the old combustion engines we’re just polluting the air, and fuel and oil are constantly leaking into our lake. We’re poisoning the fish and our drinking water. Things can’t go on like that,” said local fisher Joshua Miruka.

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