The local people have been using the resources for centuries – but a growing population is threatening the ecological balance - Photo: Bruno D’Amicis
Lake under threat
The Lake Tana region faces imminent danger of destruction
Unsustainable human activity is having its tragic effect on the environment in the Lake Tana region, undermining the very services and resources that the vast majority of the population heavily depends on. Failing to address these driving factors will lead to further deterioration of the environment and the loss of people's livelihoods.
Almost all of the forests in the catchment area of Lake Tana have been converted into farmland. Only small patches of original forest remain around churches and monasteries.
In the last 50 years there has been a reduction in forest cover from 40 percent to just 1 percent. The original forest has been lost in the search for new fertile land, for example being replaced with plantations of Eucalyptus trees, a species that is not native to Ethiopia and although it is fast growing and versatile, it also requires great quantities of water to grow. Traditional “coffee forests” where coffee plants are grown under the forest canopy are decreasing. Deforestation and forest degradation have had serious consequences: Water and wind erosion have increased on the steep slopes and valleys of the Lake Tana catchment area. Soil erosion and the level of sedimentation and siltation in the lake and rivers have also increased and there has been a significant loss and fragmentation of habitat for plants and animals.
An intensification of agriculture, the overgrazing of pastures and expansion of farmland has contributed to the problem of land degradation and soil erosion. Nutrients are being washed into the lake, upsetting the ecosystem's natural balance. Valuable wetlands are being drained and converted into farmland. As a result, the lake's characteristic reed and papyrus vegetation along its shores is being destroyed. Plants and trees are being harvested on a massive scale to meet the demand for food, fodder and fuel.
Drastic reduction in water quality
Waste and effluent from some of the homes, factories and hotels in urban settlements including the capital city of the Amhara National Regional State, Bahir-Dar, are released into the lake untreated. In addition to this, fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture are washed into the lake. This pollution is leading to a reduction in the water quality, causing a decrease in the number of fish species and an increase in algal blooms and alien species such as water hyacinths. This change in quality will have consequences for crops that are irrigated using the water as well as a decrease in the income of local fishermen.
There is a real danger that the lake will be permanently damaged by these human activities and the services it provides will be lost forever. The onset of climate change will naturally have drastic consequences and exacerbate the situation further. The proposed Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve will help towards addressing these problems and provide a sustainable future for the area's environment and its local inhabitants.