Hyacinth clogs the River Athi and threatens local economies.

7 Oct 2022 by The Water Diplomat

Water hyacinth, an invasive plant species, is clogging the Athi river in Kenya and endangering the river's environment as well as local investments.The entire water channel is covered with water hyacinth, an aquatic weed, creating dense vegetation. According to farmers, the weed has not substantially impacted agriculture in the region, except for the blocking of water intakes. However, it has hindered fishing, a crucial economic activity for the region.

Peter Kilonzi, a local fisherman, stated, "To catch fish, we are obliged to travel many kilometers downstream, where the density of the floating vegetation is low."Kiaoni, a thriving riverside commercial hub, is hardest afflicted by the water hyacinth scourge. Since August, the cost of fish on the market has tripled. This is according to Mutua, a resident in Machakos County. However, many fishmongers in the shopping centre have shut down due to declining revenues.

Native to South America, the invasive plant has been rapidly spreading around the globe. Local communities have learned to survive with the invasive plant around Lake Victoria, where it has blocked the beaches. They "harvest" the weed and convert it into biofuels and fertilizers. However, in Machakos County, the weed remains peculiar. Administrators in the afflicted regions have intensified their efforts to discourage river swimming, lest swimmers become entangled in the invasive plant.

"We are accustomed to seeing little spots of water hyacinth that are readily washed away by rain. This year, though, the floating weed has reached proportions never before seen. It poses a threat to public safety, said Kabaa Assistant Chief Rosina Munyao. Professor Gideon Nyamasyo, a former environmental studies lecturer at the University of Nairobi who has studied the invasion of water hyacinth in other water bodies, asserts that the invasive species is an indicator of river contamination, supports millions of livelihoods in the semi-arid Ukambani and beyond.

"Water hyacinth flourishes in aquatic environments that are contaminated. "The concentration of the weed in a portion of a river indicates that farmers in the vicinity use a great deal of fertilizer, which washes into the river when it rains," he said in an interview. However, he minimized the effects of the plant on the river's environment."The weed is useful as a bio cleanser for bodies of water. Water hyacinth is noted for its ability to remove heavy metals from bodies of water such as rivers. "When exposed to clean water, water hyacinth quickly dies and is washed away," he continued.

The invasion of water hyacinths has reinvigorated local efforts to clean the River Athi. Wavinya Ndeti, the governor of Machakos, has committed to take the initiative in cleaning up the permanent river that begins in Kiambu County and whose tributaries include the Nairobi River.

She recently stated, "We have already begun discussions with the national government and Kajiado, Kiambu, and Nairobi County governments, jointly responsible for discharging effluents into River Athi, in order to reverse the trend and clean up the vital river. "Scientists have demonstrated that the river is polluted with harmful chemicals and heavy metals released by industry.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta, during his reign, pledged the government's commitment to cleaning up the river after the Auditor General, environmentalists, local leaders, and riparian communities raised concerns about its contamination, something the locals are hoping the current government in power will take it up.