DRC Ebola outbreak hurts Lake Turkana fish traders
An outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the main external fish market for most Kenyan traders, is threatening commercial business in Lake Turkana.
Traders at the five Beach Management Units (BMUs) in Lake Turkana have expressed fears their earnings would decline after some business people pulled out following a decision by some countries that border DRC to introduce stringent health restriction to contain the spread of the dreaded disease.
The traders are now incurring losses running into millions of shillings as the fish prices nosedive due to unstable market.
“The DRC is our main external market for fish and the outbreak of Ebola virus in the country has impacted negatively on our businesses,” said John Loiritei Mame, Chairman Impressa group.
He said fish prices at the lake shore have dropped from an average of Sh400 to Sh200 apiece as the produce is sold at throw-away prices in saturated local market.
The DRC government on Tuesday declared the outbreak which has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The disease has claimed 17 people in the past five weeks.
The Ministry of Health is conducting routine screening of all travellers at entry points, including Busia and Malaba.
It is the ninth time an Ebola outbreak has been reported in DRC since 1976, forcing neighbouring countries to heighten border surveillance.
According to the BMUs, South Sudan, Nairobi and Kisumu are other main markets for fish from the fresh water lake.
“Local traders are taking advantage of lack of our main market in DRC to exploit fishmongers by offering them low prices,” said Stephen Ekal Ekuwom, a BMU official.
Trade assessment report by Indian Ocean Commission indicates that DRC imports an average of 89,000 tonnes of fish, mainly from Lake Turkana, to meet its domestic consumption. “Income generation from fish around Lake Turkana had increased from Sh12 million to Sh16 million while the production had improved from 31 tonnes to 35 tonnes in the last six months, but lack of market might reverse the gains,” said Napokol Epat, the group treasurer.
An average of 15,000 kilogrammes of fish were exported to Nairobi market and 6,000 kilos to Kitale from Impressa beach alone last month.
Environmentalists and fishermen in the county have expressed concern over construction of a dam by the Ethiopian Government at River Omo, arguing that it will lead to a decline in water volume in Lake Turkana and interfere with commercial fishing activities.
Led by Turkana Civil Society consortium, the conservationists argue that construction of the Gibe dam will interfere with fish breeding zones at River Omo and result in the drop in the amount of fish in Lake Turkana.