Lake Koka in Ethiopia started out as…well, as nothing. It is a man-made lake that was formed by the damming of the Awash River back in the 1960s. For many years after the lake was formed it was a place where tourist came to marvel at the beauty and wildlife. For the thousands of people who live in the area it is used for everything from washing and drinking to irrigation and fishing. Basically it is the reason that they can live in this area. But these people weren’t the only ones that liked the area around Lake Koka.
In the past few decades a number of businesses have set up around the lake and the rivers that feed it, and have brought pollution with them. Businesses such as tanneries, flower farms, and manufacturing facilities of various things like soap, plastic products, and coffee have set up along the banks and have virtually no regulations on how they get rid of their effluent. Because of this lack of regulation pollutants flow from the factories every day into the lake and the rivers feeding it. According to a 2001 study of the lake water by Debub University, Ethiopia, and the University of Wales the waters of Lake Koka contain dangerous levels of arsenic, mercury, chromium, lead, and cadmium. During the same study they tested the waste being discharged from a tannery and a textile factory along the lake and found high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, mercury, and selenium leading to the conclusion that pollution of the lake was being caused by businesses along the banks, but it doesn’t end there.
Today when you go to Lake Koka you will see that it has a thick layer of green algae on its surface. During the making of a 2009 documentary by Al Jazeera (see below) a sample of the algae was sent off to Prof. Brian Whitton of the Environmental Research Center at the University of Durham for testing. What he found was that the algae were of the most deadly form known as Microcystis. Microcystis is caused by high levels of nitrates and phosphates (two substances in fertilizer used by flower farms) and are known to have severe health impacts.
Because the people that live around the lake are constantly in the water and drinking it they know firsthand of the health effects of the water. The area residents have experienced diarrhea, typhoid, skin blisters, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection, liver disease, cancer, nervous system damage and death. One woman that lives in the area has lost her husband and six of her children possibly due to the pollution in the water. Besides affecting humans the pollution has killed or polluted most of the fish that live in these waters, taking away a main source of food.
I was looking at the Lake Koka on Google maps and you can clearly see the pollution. About 15-20 miles away there is another lake called Ziway Lake, and when you compare the two Ziway looks blue while Lake Koka looks gray and dirty.
These people need help, but there is no one to help them. The government doesn’t want anything to do with fixing the problem, and are more concerned with the money that is being made by allowing these factories to operate unchecked in Ethiopia. After the Al Jazeera documentary aired in 2009 the government told a large tannery along the banks that it was responsible for paying to clean up Lake Koka. Here we are 3 years later and nothing has happened. According to the BBC, when the head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency was asked about the value of human lives endangered by environmental pollution he said, “There is no human impact that is not felt by other species or by other people. Even when you walk, you kill many insects.” To me it sounds like he’s comparing these people to insects.
It’s a tragedy that these people need to live powerless in a country where their government doesn’t care about them. We need the international community to get involved and offer incentives to the Ethiopian government to make some changes otherwise I doubt anything will change. Hopefully one day soon the Ethiopian peoples’ voice will be heard and their suffering will end. Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment and let me know what you thought.