Story & Photos by Eddy-Claude Nininahazwe
Translation from the French by Nathalie Gorey
Every year, during the rainy season, the world’s second largest lake in the world – Lake Tanganyika – rises so high that it floods certain areas of Bujumbura, impacting thousands of families. Avite Irankunda, a student recently visiting one of the beaches on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, remembered a time when there was space to relax on the lake’s beaches. Nowadays, though, because of the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika due to global warming, Irankunda said there is no space anymore for lakeside relaxing.
Drastic measures taken by the city council
Bujumbura authorities are worried about more than beach vacations. They have noted the seriousness of the threat from rising lake water, saying they are concerned about damage to public infrastructure, in particular the roads that now frequently flood near the port of Bujumbura.
Jimmy Hatungimana, the mayor of Bujumbura, recently had barriers placed to close off part of the Avenue du Large. He explained that the degradation of the avenue, caused by the spectacular rise in the waters of Lake Tanganyika, makes it too fragile and dangerous for safe motorist use.
Why such a spectacular rise in the waters?
The ministry in charge of environmental management blamed violent winds for pushing the waters of the lake so high onto the shore, and also blamed citizens for not respecting building and environmental codes intended to protect the lake.
Albert Mbonerane, renowned environmentalist in Burundi, and author of the book Conseil du Lac (The Lake’s Advice) has warned the population to obey the codes. “Lake Tanganyika speaks to us and we must listen to it if we want to live better. If the health of the Lake suffers, the consequences will be felt by the population.”
Mbonerane attributes the rise in the waters of Lake Tanganyika to abnormally high levels of rainfall, the overly high level in Rukuga River (the only outlet of the lake, which is so full it can no longer absorb more water), and the destruction of the environment through human activity. Mbonerane blames uncontrolled development and construction.
Floods are threatening Bujumbura, areas on the coast of Lake Tanganyika, and other areas on the border with DR Congo. The threat is worse where the Rusizi River flows into Lake Tanganyika. The neighborhood of Kibenga in the southern part of Bujumbura is currently under water, as is Kajaga, located not far from the airport of Bujumbura in the commune of Mutimbuzi. Lake waters continued to rise in April and May, despite the approach of the short dry season, and thousands of families were forced to leave their homes because of flooding. However, some families remained in their flooded homes because they either could not find host families, or did not have the means to rent homes until the waters receded.
On an April 30 relief visit to the victims of the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika, Viraja Souri, the director of the International Organization of Migration, said, “This emergency is unprecedented for Burundi. We must act now to urgently address the most basic needs of the most vulnerable people, such as safe shelter, clean water, and protection.” With Souri was Melanie Harris Higgins, the new U.S. ambassador to Burundi.
Lake Tanganyika was formed 25 million years ago as a result of the east-west movement of the Somali, Victoria, and Nubian tectonic plates, which created what is known as the East African Rift.