Warding off crocodiles and other water dangers in Lake Victoria, Tanzania

Published: 27 May 2013 11:37 CET

By Rebecca Lefort, British Red Cross

Lake Victoria is a source of food, jobs and enjoyment for communities in the Mara region of Tanzania, but although it brings life, health and vitality, the vast lake can also take it away, as Justin Chitana knows all too well. His 23-year-old brother, Jonas James, was killed during a horrific crocodile attack, a tragedy which shocked the close-knit rural village of Bugwema. “He was about to go fishing along the lake when the crocodile approached and caught him. It was an ambush,” said Chitana. “The crocodile bit off his leg and his side and his arm. He was so badly injured. He was taken to hospital but he died. We were devastated and we tried to hunt the crocodile, but we couldn’t find it.”

As chair of the local branch of the Tanzania Red Cross Society, Justin Chitana has worked hard since the attack to teach people how to stay safe. “We have tried to tackle the problem by giving people education about crocodiles,” he added. “We tell them that, instead of going to the lake to fetch water, it is better to get water through their gutters. Hopefully, we can make sure other families don’t have to go through the trauma ours did.”

Just north of Bugwema, in the town of Musoma, there are not any crocodiles, but the lake still holds many dangers. A busy fishing community, accidents occur on the water every day, and hundreds of lives are lost each year. That is why the Red Cross is stepping up its efforts to teach people about water safety. Volunteers board packed boats as they prepare to depart, explaining to passengers and crew the importance of wearing life jackets, and what to do in an emergency.

As one boat set sail from the bustling Mwigobero market in the town, 11-year-old Boniface Joseph was receiving his first ever lesson in water safety, proudly wearing his luminous life jacket. “I feel safe,” he said as the boat left shore. Jellah Ngeregere, chair of the Mara district of Tanzania Red Cross who helped Joseph, said, “Water accidents are rampant. Sinking and drowning are sadly common, particularly for fishermen. That is why we are training so many people. The fishermen want to work with the Red Cross and are happy that we are saving lives.”