Africa as a continent is surrounded by two major oceans: The Atlantic Ocean in the West and the Indian Ocean in the East. Then there is the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea in the North. Inland, the continent is virtually deprived of any major water mass except one lake: Lake Victoria.
As Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria is arguably one of the most important lakes in the entire continent of Africa as more than seven countries rely on the lake directly or on River Nile that originates from the lake itself. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania all have fishing rights within the lake while Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt rely on River Nile for irrigation or hydroelectric projects.
Is Lake Victoria Drying Up Fast?
Scientist have always worried that Africa’s largest lake faces the dangers of drying up now or within the next century or so. Geological experts intimate that Lake Victoria is 400,000 years old, which is relatively young considering that most other lakes are more than 1 million years old.
But there are some factors that make the possibility of Lake Victoria evaporating into thin air more plausible. Firstly, the lake has actually dried up completely several times in the past, with the most recent incidence being 17,000 years ago. Secondly, the lake is relatively shallow. The average depth of Lake Victoria is 25 meters which is a mere 75 feet deep. The shallowness of the lake’s waters makes Lake Victoria vulnerable to evaporation and due to climate change, this can happen gradually over time until it is completely gone.
The most significant threat to Lake Victoria’s extinction is mega projects being undertaken on the lake’s outflow rivers. For example, Ethiopia is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile. Ethiopia’s hydroelectric project may trigger a “dams embargo” among its neighbors who may also want to tap on the lake’s water resource to generate a much needed electric power. It is this diversion of water that will eventually lead to the demise of the lake.
Surprising Facts About Africa’s Largest Lake
- 1. It does not belong to any one country
Lake Victoria sits directly on the borders between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. As such, it belongs to all of these three East African countries. All citizens of these countries have the rights to enjoy the lake’s resources, be it to conduct fishing, transportation, irrigation of their crops or using the lake’s water for other domestic purposes like cleaning. This of course has to occur within the confines of each country’s territorial boundaries.
- 2. It used to be a property of the Queen of England.
One will wonder how the lake got its foreign-sounding name. Most lakes in Africa have non-English names like Lake Tanganyika, Lake Turkana or Lake Nakuru. All these lakes were ascribed local nomenclature. Conversely, Lake Victoria got the name “Victoria” from Queen Victoria during the colonial era. It is worth noting that the three East African countries in which the lake sits on were administered by the United Kingdom as British East African Protectorate between 1890 to 1920. During this time, Queen Victoria was on the throne and hence named the lake after herself. The queen’s reign ended in 1901 upon her demise, but the lake retains its loyal moniker to date. It is surprising that there has not been local scramble to rename the lake considering that most things and places assigned British names during colonial periods did revert back to their original names after independence. This includes Bombay that was renamed Mumbai, Rhodesia that changed to Zimbabwe, to name but a few.
- 3. It defies gravity and the forces of Physics
Lake Victoria drains its water up north via River Nile. The upward outflow of water from the lake makes this massive lake a marvel to behold. Whereas Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, the lake empties its water via the longest river in the world into the Mediterranean Sea.
- 4. A habitat for unique wildlife
Lake Victoria harbors some of the world’s most unique wildlife species. Among them is the African clawless otter and the spotted neck otter. These species of otters are native to sub-Saharan Africa and are not found in any other part of the world. Among other wildlife residing in Lake Victoria includes the hippopotamus and the fresh water Nile crocodile.
- 5. The lake with the most islands in Africa
Lake Victoria has the largest concentration of human inhabited islands in Africa. The lake has more than 3,000 islands to be exact, scattered all over its massive 68,800 km square area. These islands sometimes provide opportunities for conflict among the East African countries in which the lake sits on. This was more so in 2012 when Uganda police crossed the border and arrested Kenyans living on Migingo Island that is clearly in Kenyan territory when seen on the most up to date map.