WWF starts environmental education programme for Lake Victoria

WWF has started the first conservation initiative exclusively dedicated to promoting environmental education as a fundamental tool for addressing the myriad threats facing Lake Victoria.

Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 23, 2003 -- WWF has started the first conservation initiative exclusively dedicated to promoting environmental education as a fundamental tool for addressing the myriad threats facing Lake Victoria.

WWF's Lake Victoria Environmental Education Programme, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), will promote environmental awareness and education in schools and among communities in the lake's catchment in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

It is estimated that there are more than 3000 NGOs investing colossal amounts of money in a variety of projects geared towards saving Lake Victoria, yet hardly any of them have given serious attention to the crucial role of environmental education in solving the lake's environmental problems, according to the East Africa Community (EAC).

"If all these groups had invested some of these resources in environmental education and awareness creation within the lake basin, the results would now be speaking for themselves," said the Secretary-General of the EAC, Mr Amanya Mushenga when signing a memorundum of understanding with WWF in August 2003.

WWF and the EAC have joined hands to promote prioritisation and mainstreaming of natural resource management at the national and regional levels.

Environmental education is a central and fundamental operating principle for WWF. This is manifest in the entrenchment of environmental education and awareness targeted at the local communities and other stakeholders that WWF works with in all its projects and programmes.

"People present the earth with its greatest problems, and at the same time its best solutions," Says Mary Shuma, WWF's Coordinator of the Environmental Education Programme.

"As conservation is essentially a people problem so must it be people-focused; people must be made to understand and appreciate the value of their natural resources, and how they affect their own lives and aspirations. Only in this way can they have positive attitudes towards conservation and effectively participate in natural resource management."

WWF's Lake Victoria Environmental Education Programme will strive to address the threats facing the lake right from their source. This means WWF will target and reach out to communities living along rivers that feed into the lake such as the transboundary Mara River, as well as those living in forests right where the rivers originate.

By using this approach, WWF aims to empower people in the lake catchment to carry out their social and economic activities in a manner not harmful to their immediate environment, and ultimately the lake.

The long-term ambition of the programme is to facilitate the integration of environmental education in the formal national education curricula of the three countries.

WWF is identifying stakeholders and partners through which it will implement the planned environmental education and awareness activities in the three countries.

Lake Victoria, Africa's largest freshwater lake, is facing depletion and degradation through unsustainable human activities.

Pollution from domestic, municipal and industrial wastes is killing fish and creating fertile waters for invasive plants such as the water hyacinth.

Deforestation and poor land use practices are exacerbating soil erosion, adding to the pollution problem and leading to poor crop harvests.

Overfishing, introduction of predatory fish species, unharmonised policies and laws between the three countries are a host of other threats inextricably linked to poverty in the lake region, and a people's quest to survive one day at a time.

"We need to put ourselves in their situation, then we would understand that for these communities it is a matter of life and death. They have no other source of energy for cooking or lighting, so they cut trees. We need to educate them on the impact of their activities and help them identify viable means of getting firewood and other sources of energy for their survival," says Shuma.

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