Lake Tanganyika is Africa’s oldest, deepest and longest lake. Local people, who are dependent on the lake for food, trade, transport and their livelihood. Located in the western branch of the great African Rift Valley, and shared with Tanzania, Zambia and Burundi, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) possessing almost half of the 1,136-mile-long coastline, Lake Tanganyika is home to about 17% of the Earth’s available surface fresh water and a hotspot for biodiversity dating back 10m years.
In the past two months, storms, torrential rain and flooding have killed at least 13 people and destroyed 4,240 homes and 112 schools along the DRC’s Lake Tanganyika coast. Floods and storms in a tropical country such as the DRC are natural. The problem is that storms and exceptional tides lapping metres high that used to occur once a decade are now frequent events.
As global temperatures rise, torrential rains have steadily increased, even during the dry season, while deforestation – a byproduct of poverty and violence – is affecting the entire Congo basin ecosystem with flooding and erosion. A warmer, more erratic lake is flooding homes, destroying schools, ruining crops and, significantly for a country with 27 million people suffering from acute hunger, decreasing yields of fish and crops. This pushes up food prices in the DRC, one of the world’s poorest countries, which is ranked 175th out of 189 on the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index.
What if global temperatures are allowed to rise by 3C above pre-industrial levels by 2100? Given that the DRC is home to more than half of Africa’s lakes and rivers, the consequences of doing nothing for the fast-growing population in coastal regions are unthinkable.
The lake is home to more than 840 aquatic plant and 1,318 animal species, including almost 300 species of fish found nowhere else in the world.
Up to 200,000 tonnes of fish are caught in the lake annually – so a major source of protein for millions of people in the region is at risk from rising water temperatures.
The lake and the forests that surround it – which cover 107m hectares of land and store 8% of the world’s forest carbon – for food, survival and income.
The DRC needs an immediate and massive reforestation programme to stop soil erosion and flooding. If nothing is done, the Congolese people could face a much more turbulent and deadly future.