Here’s the theory: climate change contributes to rising temperatures and dropping water levels, which in turn leads to lower catch volume and smaller fish, which pushes some Lake Naivasha fishermen in Nairobi’s Rift Valley to cast their nets into the world of crime. Naivasha police say that most of their recent arrests for kidnapping, rape, robbery, carjackings and other crimes have been of fishermen, up to ten a week. In addition, fishing has become so difficult that fishing “cartels” are forming, and some have been killed for fishing in a group’s regular territory.
“Over the years, the water levels in the lake have declined due to effects of climate change and as a result the breeding patterns of fish have been negatively affected, resulting in low catches by the fishermen. [A] lack of resources, such as in this case fish, has led to an increase in crime.” — Makumi Mwagiru, director of the Institute of Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi
Scientists and officials believe that climate change in addition to water overuse for irrigation, overfishing and pesticide runoff, are creating the perfect storm of problems for the lake. The lake used to cover 81 square miles, but now covers just half that.
Some of the crime has been aimed at Naivaisha’s flower farms because their perceived overuse of water is draining the lake and their agrochemicals are harming native fish populations. Authorities believe that other fishermen who have been driven out of work are moving to Nairobi and turning to kidnappings they believe will make them fast money.
“The fish trade is no longer as lucrative as it once was. It is very obvious that many leave that career very frustrated. In turn, they take out their anger on the rest of society.” — Eric Kiraithe, Kenya Police spokesman
What’s Being Done?
The East African Wildlife Society (EAWS) is in talks with the Kenyan government about how to restore the lake’s water levels, and the situation sounds dire.
“The lake might cease to exist in the next 20 years as climate change continues to take effect. Apart from flower farms using most of the water for irrigation, the temperatures are rising by the day. If we’re not careful, the lake might become a seasonal water body. We are already meeting with government officials to discuss how an effective policy to combat climate change can be developed.” — Nigel Hunter
The local government is trying to offer loans to build fish ponds and is trying to restock the lake before the end of the year.
Makumi Mwagiru says the way forward is to repair the damage, not to punish the fishermen.
“Arresting and prosecuting fishermen will not solve the problem. The way forward is dialogue and finding alternative means of livelihood for many Naivasha residents. As a society, we have to live with climate change.”
Indeed. And it seems that the answer to whether climate change causes crime is, at least in part, a sad yes.