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HomeData and researchLake Tanganyika: Regional deforestation affects lakes as their water-levels increase

Lake Tanganyika: Regional deforestation affects lakes as their water-levels increase

Photo: Homes flooded by the Lake of Tanganyika as of April 19,2021 when the level of water reached 776,44m, the highest ever recorded. Photo Credit Espoir Iradukunda/GFW/CfA.

Lake Tanganyika water-level increased in February 2021, leaving neighbouring blank houses and infrastructures damaged after floods. This is, say experts, a result of human activities on forests, including clear or dark forests in the region. This endangers  terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems leading to a gentle extinction of species.

Scientists have demonstrated the relationship between ecosystems as intertwined. There is interdependency among them, forests ecosystems protect aquatic ecosystems (Lungs) by containing CO2 gas emissions while aquatic ecosystems come to stand as polluted water-filters (Kidney). They warned over the alteration of this long-existed relation.

“The earth protects itself. The relation water-tree evolves in the ecosystem through the hydrological cycle. That continuous circulation of lake-water in the earth-atmosphere system via the tree-forest mechanism portrays the interdependency amongst them which should be maintained. Its failure stirs down various problems for example these repetitive floods”, says Mr Jean Marie Sabushimike, Environmentalist Expert and Lecturer at the National University of Burundi in the Geography Department.

He added that any malfunction of the hydrological cycle process threatens both ecosystems. One of them pays hard. He said, the absence of trees brings down the scarcity of rainfall, exposure to high temperature and increases sedimentation in lake basins due to erosion. Not only nuisances will be fraught with the tree’s absence but also water scarcity as evapotranspiration will be difficult and lakes threatened to dry out.

So far, human driven-activities have led to deforestation which in turn broke apart in meantime disturbing the cycle systems. Since 2001, the Congo basin (the main regulator of climate in the region) has lost 1.22 Mha of natural forest which equals to 512Mt of CO2 of emission. Annual tropical primary forest loss has actually increased by 41% whereas annual global deforestation has increased between 55% and 64%. The Democratic Republic of Congo lost 4,83Mha while humid primary forest fell by 4.6 % according to Global Forest Watch (GFW) an online forest monitoring platform.

In the same period that is from 2001, Lake Tanganyika water-level started increasing proportionally to the loss of trees in the tropical forest. The water variation soared from 773.5m (2000) to 777m (2020). According to the scientists, each time the water-level went over the lakes banks, infrastructures were damaged mostly in Bujumbura, the economic capital of Burundi where many beaches are built near the lakes.

This rise, says Mr Jean Marie, is associated with deforestation. Human pressure on the chains of mountains has destroyed the environment, hence the absence of natural forests. It left the mountain naked therefore increasing pollution in forms of the sedimentation heading to lakes shores. He added that there is a risk of desertification of plains bordering Lake Tanganyika.

Moreover, forests especially tropical rainforests are one of the world’s most complex ecosystems according to GFW research. In meantime these hot and humid forests are homes of millions species including mammals estimated at 400 species, birds (700), and over 700 other species including reptiles and fish. As of today, the Congo Basin is believed to shelter more than 80 Million people 10,000 plants species among which 30% are only found therein including most envied tree species for wood.

Prior to deforestation, scientists converge on its tropical forests importance including air pollution reduction as they contain gas emission (CO2) that harm water-bound as they rise temperatures. Moreover, they contribute to a balanced equatorial climate. Congo Basin according to various studies regulates the climate of the continent

Left, water level at the port of Bujumbura in 2016 (Photo Credit World Bank Report) .  As we can see on the right picture on March 21st, 2021 water level stood at 776,2m (the highest recorded during the week. Photo Credit Espoir Iradukunda/GFW/CfA.

Consequently, the region experienced either the scarcity of rainfall (longer dry season) or heavy rains leading to lake water-level variations as a result of failure between forest -and-lake relation.. This, as said environmentalists, was driven by the mixture of lake warming and human driven activities nearby the lakes.

“Cover forest loss of major and minor forest have led to the disruption of the balance of the ecosystems, forests absorb and reroute water. In addition, human pressure on wetlands, lakeshores, and river banks plus unsustainable activities such as overfishing and wastages from urban areas, industries, and farmland ruled out the pollution (biodegradable and no biodegradable) of lakes that stood as other aspects of floods and water-level variation”, says Mr Léonidas Nzigiyimpa, Environment Expert and Member of OBPE (Burundian Organization for the Protection of Environment).

He added that water variations have caused aquatic biodiversity to flee from the region. Fish were forced to migrate to calm areas if they did not die. As for the case of forest, due to deforestation, the forest is no longer dark, long trees are being cut which force ecosystems using them to disappear such as mammals and birds.

Wood for exportation in Asia Equateur Province North West DRC. Photo Credit Alfred Ntumba, EnviroNews-RDC/File.

Deforestation raised concerns on locals.  In some areas organizations exploiting the tropical forest did not or hardly cope with indigenous. This is the case of Chinese Exploiters whom their relationships went astride with exploiters. Many locals did not appreciate how they treat their forest as some of the areas are traditionally (Sacred) kept including some trees which are prohibited to cut but exploiters did not care.

“Locals and exploiters relations are mixed depending on exploiters. Communities benefit from exploiters as they are bound to implement projects destined to the population. On the side, exploiters cut a dash on communities and whatever concerns them. For example in the Provinces of Equateur and Chwapa in the East, both parties’ relations are tensioned”, said Mr Alfred Ntumba, a Congo Basin Advisory Committee Member and Journalist and EnviroNews Editor in Chief in Democratic Republic of Congo.

This, moreover, as said Mr Ntumba left locals angered. First, the main forest was destroyed which caused the scarcity of wild animals for hunters who rely on them to feed their families, hence cannot generate revenues. On this is added, the machines (very big) to cut trees, while cutting they create noise, the reasons why many run away. It increases the wrath of locals as they cannot hunt as usual, concludes Mr Alfred.

“There is a regression of forest cover in the landscape. This decline has been caused by logging for timber, energy, and agriculture. There is also a decline in wildlife. If the forest disappears even the population will disappear”, says Laurent MUSEME KIHEBE, a local authority chief in Chwapa, in the East of Democratic Republic of Congo.

So far, the second largest tropical forest behind the Amazon, second carbon sinker, and ruler of the regional climate is facing rapid growth of deforestation which harms nearby or faraway ecosystems including water-bounds and forests ecosystems.

Scientists predict what should happen if efforts spared out became vain. Africa in a few years would turn into deserts as the tropical forest is being eaten by the Kalahari in South and Sahara in North referred to as “Kalaharinization” and “Saharanization” whereas lakes would dry out as great lakes for the past days started shrinking returning to themselves.

This story was supported by Code for Africa, and funded by the Global Forest Watch (GFW) with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment (KLD). GFW supports data-driven journalism through its Small Grants Fund Initiative. The publisher maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data.”

Espoir Iradukunda
Espoir Iradukunda
Data Investigative Journalist


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