Flamingos wade in Lake Simbi Nyaima, Homa Bay County. [James Omoro, Standard]

Karachuonyo, Homa Bay County’s residents have long relied on Lake Simbi Nyaima for a living.

The name was generated from Simbi, the name of the village where the lake is located, while Nyaima is a Dholuo term that refers to something that sinks and is covered by water.

The residents used to collect a mineral locally known as bala from the lake. Bala is a mineral that comes in the form of brown soil with a nutrient content similar to that of lime. It is used for cooking vegetables, soda, and sometimes instead of salt. It is also used to feed livestock.

However, in the past three years, the mineral has been completely submerged by the lake’s water.

According to the chairman of Lake Simbi Nyaima Lake Management Committee, Kepher Owino, the situation has left residents in a needy state.

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Salt water bodies

Simbi Nyaima Lake is a small body of salt water with a circumference of about 2 km and a depth of 27.5 m.

“Bala was a livelihood for us, but most of us suffer because we can’t get it after it went underground about three years ago,” said Owino.

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Although the lake is important to the residents, it does not seem to have any economic value to them as it has no fish and its water cannot be used for household purposes.

But the arrival of flamingos in the lake is now perceived as a fortune that will replace Bala.

Flamingos, which are mainly native to Lake Nakuru and Bogoria in the Rift Valley, have now made Lake Simbi Nyaima their sanctuary.

You started visiting the lake three years ago.

Some were able to fly to the lake and stay in the Lake Victoria region for about a week during each of the two rainy seasons. You would then fly back.

But they have never flown back since their return to Lake Simbi Nyaima during the last rainy season in September last year. It seems that the lake is now their permanent home.

The number of birds has continued to increase. Today the lake is full of flamingos wading all around.

The presence of the flamingos and other factors make the lake a tourist destination.

Simbi Nyaima Lake has welcomed various groups of visitors, including researchers who want to know how the lake was formed.

There are people who have made the area a picnic area, while various learning institutions visit the lake for educational purposes as well.

The lake is also visited by religious leaders who pray for sick people.

During our visit to the lake, we met Kennedy Odongo, a catechist from God Last Appeal Church.

Odongo was on the lakeshore with four patients. They said they had traveled far from Anding’o Village in Ndhiwa Sub-county, near the border with Awendo Sub-county, Migori County.

Kennedy Odongo, a God Last Appeal Church catechist, cleanses his patient in Lake Simbi Nyaima in Homa Bay County. [James Omoro, Standard]

The catechist tells us that he visits the lake at least five times a month. He believes the lake has healing properties and he always comes there to pray for patients who seek his intervention.

We watch him pray for the first time on the lakeshore and complete the process by washing the face, head, hands and legs of the patients in the lake.

“This lake is a source of healing. After washing the patients, all their problems remain in the lake. That means that if we leave here to go home, the patients have high hopes for a recovery, ”said Odongo.

He argues that even those possessed by demonic spirits are healed “instantly” when they are washed in the lake.

“This lake is a great asset to us men of God and we appreciate it because it has enabled us to save many lives,” added Odongo.

Despite much tourist activity around the lake, residents are concerned that it lacks economic value.

The chairman of the lake’s management committee argues that hundreds of people visit the lake every day but no income is generated because the area is not fenced.

“The lake is not fenced in and people can reach it from every corner. We’re not gaining anything from the tourists, although this is a popular site that is visited by people from all over the country, “said Owino.

Owino believes that putting a fence around the lake will go a long way in generating revenue, which in turn will help develop the area and benefit local people.

Moses Buriri, chief officer of Homa Bay Tourism, said the county had allocated Sh5.2 million to fencing the lake.

Buriri said they intend to develop a policy to improve the lake environment so the site can generate funds for the benefit of local residents and the district government.

He said the project would start developing a design after a week.

“We assume that the fence work will be completed by the end of May. It can only take longer if there is a delay in sending funds to our department. However, the district government is working to ensure that this project is completed on schedule, ”said Buriri.

He argued that the plan would create jobs and income for the district government.

“Our goal is to create jobs for locals and generate income for the district government,” added Buriri.

The decentralized unit, he said, has formed a committee that works on tourism policy to market tourist spots in the county.

“We are also planning to map all of the landmarks to improve tourism in the county,” said Buriri.

Lake Victoria Tourism Association secretary general Bob Onimo said the organization will assist the county government in developing policies that could improve symbiotic relationships in tourism at the site.

The hoteliers in the region also expressed optimism that the improvement of the tourist site will bring them good business due to the traffic generated.

Francis Waweru, the food and beverage manager at the Cold Springs Hotel in Homa Bay town, said they were forced to rely on domestic tourism following the Covid-19 pandemic, which is why their hotel has benefited from the lake’s improvement becomes.

The lake was formed as a result of volcanic eruptions.