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Burundi: Lake’s Victoria basin hit by climate change threatening the biodiversity, solutions proposed.

Human driven activities have tailored deforestation which endangered aquatic and forest biodiversity in the Victoria’s basin affluents and lakes. This was at the center of a workshop organized by the ministry of environment in mid-December in an attempt to find sustainable solutions.

A participant showcasing challenges that Burundi face in the Victoria basin and possible solution on the 16th of December 2021. PhotoCredit Ministry of Agriculture comminication office.

The ministry of environment, agriculture and livestock via its technical entity, the National Authority of Environment Protection (OBPE) held a two-day training for cooperatives operating in the North of Burundi where are waters which inflow like Lake Victoria and outflow as the Nile.

Participants from Kirundo and Muyinga provinces where the Adaptation to Climate Change in the Lake Victoria’s basin (ACC-LVB) project is undertaken reported that main activities that are threatening the basin are unsustainable agriculture, overfishing, and deforestation.

In their exposés, they said that erosion, poor soil, and water scarcity have caused reduction of productivity in the region.

They have also contributed to water pollution, temperature rise, and hydrology disturbance, they also said.

In their exposés, they said that erosion, poor soil, and water scarcity have caused reduction of productivity in the region. PhotCredit Ministry of Agriculture communication office.

Burundi is part of the Lake Victoria basin. Rivers and lakes that flow into it include Lake Rweru, Cohoha, and Kanzigiri along with rivers mainly Ruvubu (Mubarazi and Ruvyironza) that runs through Akagera River which finally influent and become the Nile River.

Numerous rivers and streams drain into Lake Victoria. The principal affluent is the Kagera River, which enters the lake along its western shore, draining the highlands of Burundi and Rwanda.

The Kagera River is about 360 miles long and the Ruvuvu River is its principal tributary. A series of swamps (2-18 km wide) and small lakes occur along the course of the Kagera River with several water falls in its upper reaches

“The most distant source of the Nile is the Ruvyironza River, which flows into Lake Victoria through the Ruvubu and Akagera rivers,” reports Nile Basin Initiative.

In a bid to protect the basin’s biodiversity, OBPE’s efforts have been widened to beneficiaries with new technology kits including the development of watersheds by tracing anti-erosion ditches as well as their vegetation, the construction of fish smoking ovens.  

“The technology consisted of the use of a modern fish smoking oven for the fishermen’s associations in Lake Rweru and improved stoves for 600 households made by two local associations. The stoves are less consumptive of wood energy,” said Berchmans HATUNGIMANA, Director General of OBPE in March 2021.

He added that the planting of agro-forestry and fruit trees to facilitate afforestation is privileged.

Also, some suggestions were made during the training such as support for motor pumps for irrigation to farmers, good management of rainwater, cattle management advocacy, avail short-lived seeds and those resistant to water stress, expand fish processing and conservation, and development of the tourism sector.

-Le bassin versant du lac Victoria. Le Nil est le seul cours d'eau qui sort du lac. Tous les autres contribuent au bilan positif de l'apport en eau 3. Le texte original est : « The presence of more distinct and therefore older haplotypes (Fig. 3C) that originated long before this event strongly argues against the view that LV dried out completely. But, clearly, after refilling during the last 14,700 years, LV experienced a vast increase in the number of individuals, but not the origination of many new haplotypes. » (Verheyen et al., 2003).

Numerous rivers and streams drain into Lake Victoria. The principal affluent is the Kagera River, which enters the lake along its western shore, draining the highlands of Burundi and Rwanda.

Not only deforestation affects basin diversity but also the Lake Victoria Itself.

“Over 60% of the surface of the Lake Victoria basin is degraded through, for example, loss of vegetation cover, increased soil erosion, reduced soil fertility and agrochemical pollution,” said Ronald Semyalo, MSc in Hydrobiology at the Makerere University in Uganda.

“This has immediately increased the amount of sediment and nutrients in Lake Victoria through aerial deposition, river alluvium and runoff”, he said.

Sediments are accumulated from rivers that drain the lake. In the meantime, said Semyalo, water pollution from municipal wastewater (raw water and stormwater) and industrial wastewater has contributed to the eutrophication of the lake, particularly in the bays and gulfs.

This eutrophication phenomenon is primarily reflected in the presence of algal blooms and aquatic plants throughout the lake, with blooms in enclosed bays having a higher proportion of potentially toxin-producing algae, he added.

Given the the demographic growth of the population, over the past two decades the population might have double or tripled. According to the World Bank, it grew from 35 million in 2006 to 45 million in 2017. The basin population is growing at a rate of 3.5 percent each year [80%] relies on farming and fishing for livelihood.

“The agricultural activities are the main engines that govern pollution of the lake because of the important contribution of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus in particular) which contribute mainly to the eutrophication of the ecosystem,” reported Semyalo.

He concluded that the decomposition of biomass with a high organic content that is transported into the lake, particularly in the bays and gulfs, contributes to episodes of oxygen deficit which puts fish’s fate at the balance.

Today, 80% of fish with over 200 species are believed to have decimated or lost due to pollution_ either from nearby or far away_ in Lake Victoria while 70% of forest is destroyed in the entire basin.

The lake is shared by three countries including Tanzania (51%), Uganda (43%), Kenya (6%) with Burundi and Rwanda contributing through the basin by waters inflowing it.

Academicians said that the region has struggled to implement regulatory measures, technical advances and planning required throughout the basin to control the degradation of the lake’s water quality as a transboundary resource.

The lack of tangible effort has stirred down rising temperatures, changing precipitation cycles, the development of economic activities such as floating cage fish farming, and the emergence of new forms of pollution such as microplastics and nano plastics which have posed the-then threats to the progress made to date in managing the lake and its resources.

Masinde Bwire, ACC-LVB regional coordinator said that climate change in the Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) has led to higher temperatures and increased variability in rainfall.

“In dry seasons, there are droughts and low flows in the rivers, while in rainy seasons there are devastating floods,” he said.

For him, the project which kicked start in 2018 was set to promote innovative adaptation approaches while community-based projects are being established. Their objective, he added, is to address climate impacts by drawing on indigenous/ local knowledge and technologies.

At its completion, it [the project] is expected to have restored at least 500 hectares of woodland in Lake Victoria’s catchment area to improve soil fertility and increase fish stocks (using an ecosystem-based adaptation approach).

Despite being part of Lake Victoria basin in other terms Nile basin, it belongs also to Congo basin, respectively through Lake Victoria (North) and from Lake Tanganyika (South-West) of the country.

Various Burundian rivers that drain main African rivers have been threatened by human-driven activities such as farming, mining, changing forests into habitable areas, and industrial activities that do not respect environmental rules and regulations.

Reporting and illustration by Espoir Iradukunda, edited and approved for publication by Egide H. Ngenzebuhoro.

Espoir Iradukunda
Espoir Iradukunda
Data Investigative Journalist


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