Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake, and its surface area is the second biggest in the world. But an ecological disaster threatens the lake’s future and the 35 million people who depend on its bounty.

The lake has witnessed one of the largest losses of biodiversity ever recorded, due to climate change and overfishing. 300 native fish species have been wiped out, after the disastrous introduction of the nile perch. Water hyacinth blooms have chocked off the lake’s oxygen supply. Forests have been replaced by palm oil plantations. In Kenya’s Busia county the once lucrative local fishing industry has completely collapsed.

Desperate to feed their families, many fishermen have abandoned their nets and secretly started mining the sand underpinning the local environment.

It’s an extremely hazardous job, leading to the collapse of the area’s foundation and many families’ dreams. Young men working in the unstable pits have been buried alive leaving behind their unsuspecting widows.

In Tanzania others have turned to artisanal gold mining to survive, working in dirty pits just 10 km from Lake Victoria’s shore. To process the gold the miners use mercury, a toxic metal leaching into streams flowing down to the lake.

Emmah Omuke, reporter for community radio station Ranet Bulala FM, takes a look at the crisis and what can be done to give people an alternative way to make a living so Africa’s greatest lake can recover. She’s part of an ambitious three country wide team of local reporters covering this ecological emergency. Listen to her report here.

Website by Appropriate. Photos by Amanda Fisher