Lake Katwe and salt mining in uganda (1)
Lake Katwe is a volcanic crater lake that formed as a result of violent volcanic eruptions, sometime between 8000 and 10000 years ago. PHOTO/UGANDA SAFARIS TOURS

Lake Katwe in Queen Elizabeth National Park produces the greatest amount of salt during the dry season. Salt production peaks from January to March and July to September.

Lake Katwe is a saltwater lake in Uganda. It is an ancient crater lake located in the small run-down town of Katwe on the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Kasese district, covering an area of approximately eight square miles. 

The lake’s water is supplied by streams and has no outlet, resulting in a salty lake with high evaporation during the dry season and a mineral concentration in the hypersaline water.

How Lake Katwe was formed

Being a crater lake, Lake Katwe was formed as a result of violent volcanic eruptions. This lake was formed between 8000 and 10000 years ago.

Molten lava from the earth’s crust exerts considerable pressure as it attempts to escape through a blocked vent or fissure.

This pressure forces the surface downward, creating a large depression known as a crater. 

The explosion’s debris falls on the crater’s sides, forming a realm of volcanic piles. This is referred to as a violent volcanic explosion.

With time, the depressions fill with water, forming a crater lake. The same volcanic processes are responsible for the formation of the majority of western Uganda’s crater lakes.

These crater lakes are also known as extinct volcanoes; however, a few still emit sulphurous gas, indicating that an eruption could occur at any time, posing danger to nearby residents.

Lake Katwe in Uganda (1)
Uganda’s Lake Katwe is a saltwater lake. PHOTO/GANYANA SAFARIS

Uganda is home to three significant crater lakes: Lake Katwe in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bunyaruguru craters on the magnificent Kichwamba escarpment, and Nandali-Kasende in Kibale National Park.

Visiting Lake Katwe

When visiting, you can take a 27-kilometre scenic crater drive that passes by enticing crater lakes such as Katwe and Nyamunuka.

Crater lakes within Queen Elizabeth National Park provide excellent hiking opportunities, particularly around Nyamunuka crater, where you can observe flamingos, warthogs, and other animals.

The reason Lake Katwe is salty is that it has several water tributaries that bring water into the lake; inlets. However, there are no escape routes. This is also the primary reason why ocean water is saline. 

During the dry season, there is a great deal of evaporation, which concentrates the salt solution to form salt rocks.

The salt mining activity at Katwe Crater Lake has dwindled in importance. This is since additional salt mines have been discovered in several other countries. 

Several years ago, it was a lucrative economic activity for residents of Katwe and Katunguru. 

Before salt was discovered in other parts of East Africa, salt from Lake Katwe was also exported to Congo and Rwanda.

Process of salt extraction

Salt production at Lake Katwe in Queen Elizabeth National Park is highest during the dry season. The peak seasons for salt mining are January to March and July to September. 

During the dry season, evaporation concentrates the saline water in Lake Katwe, forming a hyper solution that forms the salt.

Women gather the crusted salt that has formed on the surface. It is transparent and is the salt that has been filtered to produce table salt. On the other hand, men shovel the salt blocks from the lake’s bottom. This is done at the lake’s shallow end.

The process of extracting salt from Lake Katwe entails salt miners entering the water waist-deep and manually extracting the salt. Before the black mud is sold, it is spread out and dried before being packed in bags.

Among the uses for the black mud extracted from Lake Katwe and dried are selling it to cattle keepers for use as salt licks for the cattle.

Individuals own the salt pans that have been created along the lake’s margins, and some are even inherited by certain families. Certain individuals are granted extraction licenses to mine in the central part of Lake Katwe. 

The licensing of salt miners was done to avoid salt mining, which would result in the lake’s extinction.

Salt mining and processing also entails purifying salts to remove impurities, which is accomplished through a leaching process. Selective precipitation is another method of purifying salt in Lake Katwe.

The mines are divided into sections by wooden walkways. Large blocks of salt are extracted and these come in three forms: edible salt, crude salt used by animals, and unwashed salt. 

This salt is extracted by members of the local community, who comprise a sizable portion of the salt mining community. 

The salt miners have maintained an ancient method of salt extraction that has been used for decades.

Edible salt, also known as grade 1 salt, is formed in mud-lined salt pans through the process of evaporation, which is accelerated during the dry seasons due to increased evaporation. 

When the lake cools at night, crystals float and are forced to sink as they collide with man-made barriers.

Crude salt is a different type of salt extracted from Lake Katwe and is classified as a grade 2 salt. This salt is extracted from the byproducts of the pond’s products at the end of the dry season and is primarily consumed by animals.

The highly crystallized salt is consumed by humans, while the dirty, muddy salt is sold as cow salt licks. 

Additionally, the muddy salt is sold at a discount because it is used to tenderize meat and beans in Uganda.

Lake-Katwe-and-Salt-Mining in uganda (1)
During the dry season, Lake Katwe in Queen Elizabeth National Park produces the most salt. FILE PHOTO

Risks associated with mining salt

The salt miners spend the entire day in and around the mines, enduring the scorching sun and the foul odour emanating from the evaporating saline water. 

Due to the presence of salt in the depression, the temperature drops significantly during the sunny season.

The salty water in Lake Katwe is highly toxic and poses a serious threat to the reproductive health of both women and men workers. Women stuff flour into their private parts to keep toxic water out. 

According to certain reports, the salty water from Lake Katwe can render a man impotent and a woman barren, regardless of the precautions taken by these miners to avoid sexual problems. 

These difficulties confronting Katwe’s salt miners have not halted production; mining is their sole source of income.

A half-day visit to Katwe salt lake is sufficient.

Visiting the Katwe salt works is a half-day itinerary included in the Queen Elizabeth National Park tour. The guide assists you in obtaining critical information about salt mining and the area’s history from miners.

The Katwe area’s primary economic activity is salt mining. 

However, it is no longer as lucrative as it once was. The miners’ living standards remain deplorable, as the money they earn from salt mining is insufficient.

You can only support these communities by purchasing crafts directly from the makers; indigenous people. These crafts are made with a lot of love by the indigenous people and staged along the roadside to be sold to visitors. 

This is a secondary source of income to supplement the salt mining job.

What else is there around Lake Katwe?

Culture, handicrafts, vegetation and animals encountered along the way, and the way of life of the residents of Katwe town.

Last but not least, for an all-inclusive tour experience in Uganda, view our guide to St Paul’s Namirembe Cathedral, The Uganda MuseumUganda Martyrs Shrine, The Bahai TempleWhite water raftingBungee JumpingVisit Mount MuhaburaGorillas in UgandaSsese Islands, Cost of Gorilla TrekkingMurchison Falls National ParkLake Mburo National Park and Semuliki National Park.