Maro Andy Tola

The role of local communities in managing Lake basins

Maro Andy Tola
Ministry of Water and Irrigation, P.O. Box 49720 – 00100, GPO, Nairobi, Kenya, Email:

EDITED BY: Eric O. Odada, Daniel O. Olago, Washington Ochola, Micheni Ntiba, Shem Wandiga, Nathan Gichuki and Helida Oyieke


According to information available in literature, communities in many developing and developed countries have played a significant role in the management of lakes and their basins. The common findings and observations derived from reviewing the roles played by Kenyan and Japanese local communities in lake basin management are that; the communities feel attached to the values and functions being provided by the lake ecosystem, they are composed of community membership organizations which are run by conscious and voluntary “citizens” in an open and democratic manner and the community organizations aims at satisfying their members need for higher quality of life. On the contrary to the Kenyan situation, most of the community organizations in Japan were established based on traditional community organizations – Chonaikai or Jichikai – and are officially incorporated in local instruments of municipal governments throughout the country, they are operated financially with membership fees and partly with subsidies from governments, they respond to any basic needs of local population, they involve compulsory participation, a household is a unit membership of an organization and they are always coopted into the government, which assign them with some administrative services. The paper concludes by generating information useful to planners, water resources managers and administrators in relating to the use of local communities in lake basin management in achieving national, regional and local goals

Key words: Community, Organizations, Lake Basins


Lake basins have played an important role in sustaining people and other forms of lives through centuries. Social – economic and industrial development has occurred hand in hand with the availability of clean and reliable water resources; communities settled and were forced to migrate to areas where water was available. Caponera (1992) called these social groupings as hydraulic civilizations.

Lakes are natural entities in which fresh, brackish or saline waters and a mixture of interacting living and non-living components can be found. They play a pivotal role in the water cycle and in nearly all forms of life cycles as a source of bio-diversity. They are the reservoirs of the much needed freshwater and are repository of mankind’s pollutants as well as from natural activities within and outside their basins. Far more serious in its effects has been the failure by developing nations to enforce adequate industrial pollution controls, where, in their desire to keep costs down and maximize profits, industries are content with standards, which would be unacceptable in the developed world (Cleary 1989).

It is by this fact that their wise-use and good management in the 21st century has gained a lot of impetuous. In general, worldwide and especially in developing countries, communities living in lake basins are faced with severe poor water quality and water shortages for their uses. Therefore, how the lake inflow river waters are managed is critical in poverty alleviation, improving health standards and food security.

Key threats to most lakes include loss of forest cover in upper catchments and along inflow rivers, unsustainable agricultural and fishing expansion, population growth, poorly placed tourist facilities, urban settlements and agriculture, and failure of local, national and regional institutional structures. The results from these threats are some typical problems facing the world’s lakes including; biodiversity loss, climate variability, eutrophication, diminishing exotic species, overfishing, pathogenic contamination, salinisation, siltation, toxic contamination and water level decline (WB/GEF, 2004). With the trends, which most African lakes are taking, the importance of the aquatic resources within the lakes, as well as the supply of fresh water from them, cannot be overemphasized.

Having said that, it is important to note that all is not lost because citizens and other stakeholders have been encouraged to participate meaningfully in identifying and resolving critical lake problems. For example, in Kenya, there are many groups named as friends of lakes and reservoirs whose aim is to protect these water bodies from severe degradation. The Friends of Lake Victoria – OSIENALA is one of the groups. Likewise, in Japan, lake protection movements are from the citizens, the Akanoi – Biwako Environmental Citizens’ Initiative is one of such groups.

It can be concluded that managing lakes means managing people and peoples’ behaviour at individual, household and community level determine the successes in managing lake basins. When people are involved, they provide individuals and groups with forums where their views are communicated to decision makers (bottom-up and consultative process).

This paper will therefore give an overview of the roles played by local communities in lakes management at their hydrological boundaries (lake basins). It will compare local initiatives by Kenyan and Japanese communities in lake basin management and show how these communities have been constituted. The paper concludes by generating information useful to planners, water resources managers and administrators in relation to  the use of local communities in lake basin management. The reader will realize that the forms of decentralization processes are not discussed in detail

Communities and lake basins

Populations do not live in isolation, but rather live together in a particular area and often interact in various ways. It is now becoming clearer that people’s lives and influences extend far beyond themselves. For example, communities living along lake shoreline have as much influence on the lake as those who live in the upper catchments and along rivers. In most cases, competition occurs when people make use of the same limited lake basin resources. However, in many cases, competing individuals do not interact with each other directly, instead they are affected by the reduction in the common resource (exploitation).

In lake basins, problems emerge between water and land-use interactions, environmental and social effects of water resources development schemes and problem of access to, and allocation of water resources among competing uses. Oya (2004) pointed out that although lake basin forms a convenient spatial unit for water resources development and management, the increasing use of land and water resources in the basins has pointed to potential conflicts. A good example is between upstream and downstream areas or between different sectors such agriculture, fishing, and industry. The major categories of such conflicts from a lake basin perspective include: contamination of water through upstream land-use activities adversely affecting downstream activities; excessive water extraction due to the upstream land use activities resulting in water shortages in the downstream areas; deterioration of watershed ecological functions owing to removal of forest cover through logging, land settlement and spontaneous expansion of agricultural land resulting in increased flooding, drought, and sedimentation in downstream areas; and increased pressure to construct dams and reservoirs in the upstream for the benefit of downstream communities, giving rise to adverse socio-economic effects on the upstream communities.

Continued deforestation of the Mau forest threatens people’s lives with flooding and the drying up of River Mara; this has direct negative effects to Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha.

Continued deforestation of the Mau forest threatens people’s lives with flooding and the drying up of River Mara; this has direct negative effects to Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha

Who should speak for lake basins?

There are few cases where governmental organizations have been effective representatives of lake basins. This could easily make someone to conclude that the answer to the above question is: No one.

In responding to the challenges posed by water problems, the Lake Biwa Comprehensive Management Plan and the Lake Victoria Management Environment Programme (LVEMP) were formulated in Japan and Kenya in 1972 and 1997 respectively. But it has since been realized that an effective strategy for water resources management requires some entity or entities – public-private, or mixed public and private – to speak for the lake basins interests involved. The Lake Naivasha Management Committee (LNMC), Friends of Lake Victoria (OSIENALA) and the Akanoi-Biwako Environmental Citizens’ Initiative are examples of some of the public – private entities or association formed to manage basin crises related to water pollution, flood or drought control. The local communities within the lake basins have spearheaded most of these associations.

Institutional setting

Institutions are organizations or establishments founded for a specific purpose based on a set of working rules originating from an established custom, law or relationship in a society or community. In most cases, these organizations are formed after a series of sectoral conflicts on lake basin resources utilization, upstream-downstream water pollution, land degradation and extreme natural calamities like prolonged drought or flooding years with a substantial part of the population at the verge of perishing. From the afore mentioned reasons, it can be noted that the need for lake management on their hydrological boundaries is mainly triggered by the growing competition for water or by the need to co-operate in upstreamdownstream relation for flood control or both.

In forming institutions, it is imperative to note that they should operate on hydrological boundaries, rather than on administrative boundaries; this is because water (both surface and ground water) simply tends to flow down and it does not stop at the boundary of the district or the region. If institutions operate on administrative boundaries, the following could result:

a) Cumbersomeness in conducting water allocation.
b) Cumbersomeness in setting water use priorities
c) Cumbersomeness in carrying out flood control measures.
d) The respective authority (e.g. province, District etc.), may be induced to monopolize the water supply sources within its area and transfer the problem of flooding or water pollution to downstream.

Lake basin management: Kenyan versus Japanese local communities: a case study

Most of the lake basin communities have an attachment to the values and functions that lakes provide to them. Lakes have in many generations provided cheap protein sources, building materials and are sources of interest and inspiration for people of all ages. By trying to protect these lake functions and values, communities living adjacent to lakes come up with informal or formal organizations that cater for their interests. It is after some time that other communities within the lake basin join hands to protect the basin at large. This normally occurs after sectoral conflicts on using the lake resources or polluting the lake itself.

The establishment of these organizations varies from one lake basin to another and from one country to another, depending on the ideals, culture and historical background of those communities. In Kenya, lake basin organizations have been due to both government policy directions e.g. Lake Basin Development Authority as well as individual / sectoral initiatives e.g. OSIENALA and Lake Naivasha Management Committee (LNMC). In most cases, membership to these organizations is voluntarily and is very formal. Where no membership registration fee is required, a member or membership sector will have to meet the cost of running the organization. All in all, the community organization will aim at satisfying its members need for higher quality of life and solve sectoral conflicts.

Contrasting the Kenyan situation with that of Japanese local community organizations, these organizations are established based on traditional community organizations (Chonaikai or Jichikai). The organizations are officially incorporated in local instruments of municipal governments through out the country and they respond to any basic needs of the local population. They are operated financially with membership fees and partly with subsidies from governments. They involve compulsory participation and a household unit is a member of an organization. The government has come to identify them as useful administrative organs and therefore it assigns them some administrative services.

Although it can be said that community organizations in Kenya have played a significant role in lake basin management, it is imperative to note that the local communities have come to identify them as elite groups and have therefore found it hard to sell their ideas and indigenous knowledge for the sustainable use of lake resources within and outside the basin. The National Wetland Policy 2005 has tried to resolve this impasse by incorporating indigenous knowledge in lake management. It has identified and outlined ways in which locals are encouraged to participate in creating an enabling environment for sustainable development and management of lakes. The Water Act 2002 and the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act 1999 also support this Policy.

The activities that these community organizations undertake have resulted into positive changes. For example, a SIDA 1998 report quoted by Ong’ang’a et al (2003), painted a terrible picture of pollution from all sides of Lake Victoria Basin. Effluent released from Agroindustries had a BOD value of 95,000mg/l, far much higher than the recommended World Heath Organization value of 100mg/l.

According to Ong’ang’a et al (2003) things improved with the efforts made by OSIENALA by campaigning to extol the virtues of waste treatment to the managers of major sugar factories and Agrochemicals and Foods industries.

In Japan, Yahagi River had murky waters problem due to rapid urbanization and industrialization (Ide 2005). To protect the river water quality, citizen’s movement started with the initiatives of affected farmers and fishermen in 1962. In 1969, the river water pollution was at its peak, when the Yahagi Water Quality Conservation Consociation (YRWQCC) was established. The consociation conducted protest activities for protecting the river water quality. Later it realized that both downstream and upstream should understand each other and cooperate; because of that, the YRWQCC shifted its direction of activities to environmental conservation with dialogue and collaboration. In the end, a citizen’s movement initiated by farmers and fisher folks in Yahagi River Basin has successfully motivated and involved local administration and other organizations and has increased people’s consciousness that they must not dispose of polluted waters.

The formation of was a long and tortuous journey. It is a stakeholder representative forum established to address issues of Lake Naivasha and its environs. It has the mandate to implement the gazzetted Lake Naivasha Management Plan, which it has developed; and has been recognized by the Kenya Government as a legal instrument in Lake Basin Management. The Lake Naivasha Riparian Owners Association initiated the LNMC. The land below the arbitrary chosen lake level of 6,210 ft a.s.l (1892.8m a.s.l) was put into their custody in 1933 where no permanent structures are allowed to be built on. This proved to be a wise move, since it has protected the riparian/shore line from degradation. The committee has achieved a lot in bringing different stakeholders into a round table to discuss their interests and those of the lake basin.

From the above-mentioned examples, citizen participation can be considered to deepen stepwise from information sharing to consultation, collaboration and empowerment. UNEP (2000) stated that to achieve the objectives of eutrophication control, public participation throughout the period of decision-making is required. It is therefore important for decision makers to consider environmental education and community participation as a priority in their national and local environmental policies. This is because it is easier for people to accept policies, even difficult or controversial ones, when the importance and nature of the problem is properly presented to them.


Local lake basin community organizations in Kenya and Japan have been autonomous and implementation bodies for environmental protection in the basins. As a matter of course, these organizations are not almighty and what they can do by themselves is limited due to human and financial resources. The community organizations established in the community activities have same drawbacks. In order to address issues related to the environment from a wider perspective, roles of secondary stakeholders like the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO’s) come to be important. In most cases, national opinion has backed issues raised by local community organizations though the national network of local NGO’s.

The community activities in Kenya and Japan are potential pragmatically movement bodies, which combine advantages of both western and traditional style of community organizations. The worst weakness of these organizations is that they are financially dependent on other sources. Other organizations are already proving to be financially independent.

In conclusion, it is important that any country must have local community organizations for lake basin management. For the conservation of water environment with community participation, the Government must restructure and revitalize such local community organizations in line with modern society and by adapting good virtues from the western style community organizations. Governments should also strive to subsidize and even incorporate such community organizations into their administrative roles.


Caponera, D., 1992. Principles of Water law and Administration, A.A. Balkema. Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Cleary S., 1989. Renewing the Earth, Development for a Sustainable Future, An Economic Perspective. CAFOD, England.

Environmental Management and Coordination Act, 1999. Government of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya

Ide, S., 2005. Citizen Participation in Water Quality Management (Japan and Kansai Area. University of Shiga Prefecture, Shiga, Japan.

ational Wetland Policy, 2005. Government of Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya.

Onga’anga, O. Aseto O., 2003. Lake Victoria (Kenya) and Its Environs: Resources, Opportunities and Challenges. OSIENALA (friends of Lake Victoria), Kisumu, Kenya.

Oya, K., 2004. Water Resources Management in a river / Lake Basin Context: Policy Implications. UNCRD, Nagoya, Japan.

UNEP, 2000. Planning and Management of Lakes and Reservoirs: An integrated Approach to Eutrophication (A bridged Version – A Students Guide), UNEP IETC. Osaka /Shiga, Japan.

Water Act, 2002. Government of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya.

WB/GEF, 2005. Managing Lakes and Their Basins, Practical Approaches for Sustainable Use (Draft Report).

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