Feature: Kenya’s fishermen suffer losses as supply to Ebola-hit DRC slumps

by Robert Manyara

LODWAR, Kenya, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — The scorching mid-morning sun failed to deter a group of men from pulling a huge batch of fish from a motor boat moments after landing at Kalokol beach in Lake Turkana located in northwest Kenya.

During a conversation with Xinhua on Friday, the men revealed that they had been on a fishing expedition since dawn.

A group of women who had been waiting for the arrival of the boats swung into action to help the fishermen offload the consignment.

“We have been in the waters since 5:00 a.m. and our nets are full,” says Peter Ekiru, a tall and energetic fisherman.

Despite the huge catch, Ekiru was a worried man. The father of six lamented over poor business in the last couple of weeks.

Like most of the fishermen in the area, Ekiru depended on ready market for the fish in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

However, since Ebola outbreak in DRC, Ekiru’s business has suffered losses.

“We depend on fishing as our main economic activity. But there is no stable market for the fish after the Ebola outbreak in the DRC,” said Ekiru.

“Previously on a good day I could walk home with about 10 U.S. dollars but the business is low and I hardly get 5 dollar per day,” he added.

The DRC, which has been battling the Ebola outbreak since April, provides a huge market for fish in Lake Turkana.

Most fish traders have pulled out of the trade following a decision by some countries that border DRC to introduce stringent health restriction to contain the spread of Ebola.

The DRC government has declared the Ebola outbreak a public health crisis with regional implications while the World Health Organization reported that 27 total cases of fever with hemorrhagic symptoms were recorded in the Bikoro region between April 4 and May 5 this year, including 17 deaths.

Bikoro is situated in Equateur Province on the shores of Lake Tumba in the north-western part of the country near the Republic of the Congo.

It is the ninth time an Ebola outbreak has been reported in DRC since 1976, forcing neighboring countries to heighten border surveillance.

Back to Kalokol, Xinhua found that traders at the five Beach Management Units (BMUs) in Lake Turkana now live on the edge of survival not knowing what the future holds for them as they watch their earnings rapidly dwindle.

“The DRC is our major fish market and Ebola outbreak has affected our business and we don’t know when the disease will be contained and business resume,” said Jane Etapel.

Etapel says fish prices have fallen since the outbreak from an average of 4 dollars to 2 dollars a single catch as the produce is sold at throw-away prices in the saturated local market.

“We are being exploited because of lack of stable market. Fishmongers have taken advantage of the crisis in DRC to buy fish from us at a throw-away price,” said Ekal Ekuwom, an official at the beach.

Trade assessment conducted by Indian Ocean Commission indicates that DRC imports an average of 89,000 tons of fish, mainly from Lake Turkana, to meet the needs of local consumers.

The fishermen will now rely on South Sudan as well Kenya’s Nairobi and Kisumu, which compromise the bulk of current demand for fish.

An average of 15,000 kilograms of fish was consumed in Nairobi and 6,000 in Kitale town last month.

Fishermen interviewed said they are hopeful that the situation will return to normal in the Democratic Republic of Congo to enable them to resume profitable business.

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