Due to the uncertain prospects of rain and the recurrent drought that has plagued the country in recent years, the inhabitants of Zambezi Region now fear for the worst as Lake Liambezi is drying up rapidly, leaving the fish exposed in shallow waters.
The last time Lake Liambezi dried up was between 1986 and 2007, after which the lake filled up again – to the relief of thousands of Muyako residents whose diet consists mainly of fresh and dried fish.
Apart from supporting crop farming, the lake has been a valuable source of income to people in the region for several years due to its rich fish stocks. The lake also attracts fisher-folk from countries like Zambia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are attracted by the lake’s abundant freshwater fish stocks. However, this is likely to become a thing of the past as water levels have dropped significantly and the fish are dying in vast numbers.
Reecently the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources prohibited local people from catching fish for consumption, or sale, despite the low water levels that are causing vast numbers of fish to die in the shallow waters. The ministry has since December 16, 2015 enforced a ban on freshwater fishing, which will come to an end on the 26th of February, ostensibly to enable fish stocks to recover.
Vincent Salufu, an induna representing the Bukalo Khuta in the Miyako area, northeast of Katima Mulilo, is concerned that the situation at Lake Liambezi is deteriorating day by day as the water levels have dropped drastically, resulting in some parts of the lake simply drying up. Chobe River, which supplies water to the lake, is also dry in some parts, thus eroding the little hope nearby residents had.
“We are put in a hot spot here. Government stops us from catching fish, yet the fish are dying just like that without being consumed, while at the same time we are struck by drought. How do they expect us to survive? We are suffering! There’s no hope of survival here. We are just putting our lives in God’s hand now,” Induna Salufu said.
Salufu added that the ministry showed poor timing in implementing the ban at a time of severe drought. He said the officials showed no concern for the affected people, while they are fully aware of how severe the drought is.
“We used to survive on this fish, which they have now decided to leave to the wild to enjoy. It is even January and the schools are reopening, where are we suppose to get money to take our children to school if our source of income has been snatched from us? Government should really intervene and do something. We can’t go on like this,” Salufu stressed.
Residents of Muyako are in a dilemma because they may not “pick up” the fish stranded in shallow waters that will eventually die and rot because of the fish ban.
A fisheries official in the Zambezi Region, who did not give his name as he is not allowed to speak to the press, acknowledged the dire situation, saying it is really bad at the moment and needs urgent attention, as it is not only Lake Liambezi that is drying up, but several ponds that are the main source of water for residents in the region.
“We’ve inspected the ponds and the lake and we’ve seen how bad the situation is. We are, however, in the process of drafting a proposal to the permanent secretary to grant the residents permission to harvest all the fish and distribute it to the community at no cost.
“I want to emphasise this: that the fish will not be for sale, but for free,” said the official, who declined to divulge further information to the media without permission from the head office in Windhoek.
When New Era sought permission from the Ministry’s Head Office to speak openly to the said official in the north, this reporter was informed that all top officials mandated to speak to the media are still on extended holiday and will only be back in office next month.