GNF - Interview Threatened Lake 2017 - Lake Tanganyika

Interview with Mr. Emmanuel Nshimirimana

Executive Director of the Association BIRATURABA, Burundi


Question: Which are the most severe problems and challenges that Lake Tanganyika is facing?

Answer: The main threats for Lake Tanganyika are:

  • The pollution from excessive sediment and nutrient loads caused by erosion in the watershed, industrial and urban waste,
  • The intensive fishing using inappropriate methods, and
  • The human activities (constructions, agriculture, etc.) in the littoral zone of the lake that destroy the buffer zones which also serve as fish spawning areas.
 Emmanuel Nshimirimana

Question: Which are the main sources of livelihoods for the local population at Lake Tanganyika?

Answer: The local populations of Lake Tanganyika live mainly from:

  • Fisheries and fish trade,
  • Agriculture for rural areas, and
  • Trade for urban areas.


Question: Does commercial fishing have any effects on the lake? Where is the fish caught in Lake Tanganyika mainly marketed?

Answer: Fishing at Lake Tanganyika is still mainly artisanal. Fish are marketed fresh or smoked in the cities and urban centres of the riparian countries. At present, there is no big fish industry exporting fish from Lake Tanganyika to Europe or Asia. For several years, fishing had been the best source of income in the Lake Tanganyika region. Due to a growing human population agriculture needed to be increased and intensified. In recent years, this lead to land degradation, soil exhaustion and erosion and as a consequence to the decline of agricultural production. Therefore, for many people fishery became an alternative to make their living. But this causes overfishing and overexploitation of the lakes natural resources, accelerated by the use of inappropriate methods such as the use of Mosquito nets.


Question: What species of fish are mainly caught in the lake? Are there any species threatened by fisheries?

Answer: Fish caught in Lake Tanganyika are dominated by six species: two Clupeidae (Stolothrissa tanganicae and Limnothrissa miodon) and four Lates species (Lates stappersii, L. angustifrons, L. mariae and L. microlepis). All of these species are endemic to Lake Tanganyika and are on the IUCN Red List. They are threatened by overfishing and pollution in coastal and pelagic areas.


Question: Is Lake Tanganyika a drinking water resource?

Answer: Yes, Lake Tanganyika is an important source of drinking water. The towns around the lake often have difficulties accessing safe drinking water. There are only very few wells in the littoral zone of Lake Tanganyika. Therefore, the people have to use the untreated water from the lake or the tributary rivers. Because of consuming the polluted water they are experiencing periodically cases of diseases like cholera.


Question: Is the local population aware of problems at Lake Tanganyika?

Answer: In general, communities know that there are problems at Lake Tanganyika. They are aware of the gradual decrease in the quantity of fish in the lake, they know that the water in the lake is becoming more and more polluted, they know that there is a great sedimentation, and so on. However, the majority of the population does not know why these problems exist and what needs to be done to avoid them. Other people know this, but the actions to be taken are likely adverse to their direct interests and they prefer not to do anything. The population around the lake is not organised to defend their common interests.


Question: Would tourism be an alternative source of income for the local population at Lake Tanganyika?

Answer: Despite the great tourist potential of Lake Tanganyika, tourism remains an insignificant activity. For Burundi, tourism has not been developed mainly because of repetitive political crises since 1988. For this reasons, the tourism potential of Lake Tanganyika remains unknown to many and private investors are afraid because of insecurity.


Question: What are possible solutions for the challenges at Lake Tanganyika?

Answer: Possible solutions for the challenges at Lake Tanganyika are:

  • Pollution reduction: comprehensive waste and waste water management projects in towns around Lake Tanganyika must be developed; implement drinking water projects and educate the public about hygiene.
  • Reducing sedimentation in the Lake Tanganyika basin: educating and supporting people in adopting appropriate agricultural techniques for erosion control (e.g. terracing), reforesting land on steep slopes, etc.
  • Reduce fishing pressure by monitoring fishing techniques and tools/materials, helping the riparian population to develop income-generating activities that are alternative to fishing.
  • Develop a regulation for the protection of Lake Tanganyika that is common for the four riparian countries.
  • Create protected areas for sites that are highly sensitive to biodiversity, including fish spawning areas, etc.


Question: Which is the role and what are main activities of Biraturaba?

Answer: The role of Biraturaba is to (i) sensitize different actors to develop a common vision in the management of Lake Tanganyika resources; (ii) educate the communities around Lake Tanganyika in adopting hygiene and sanitation measures; (iii) developing community-based drinking water projects, development of alternative income-generating activities, etc.


Question: Who are other important actors concerning the protection of Tanganyika?  

Answer: At the local level, the four riparian states have already established a cooperation framework called the Lake Tanganyika Authority. Unfortunately, these four countries are among the poorest countries in the world and not able to handle the situation on their own. Coordinated support is essential to improve the situation of the Lake Tanganyika ecosystem and the living conditions of the riparian communities. The fact, that four countries are sharing the lake is a constraint for the sustainable management of the lake's resources. Laws and regulations need to be harmonised. The establishment of the Lake Tanganyika Authority is a first important step in the right direction.

Other important actors are the public institutions in charge of water, environment and sanitation in the four countries. And there are further active NGOs working to support the communities in the Tanganyika lake zone.


Question: What do you expect from the nomination/proclamation of Lake Tanganyika as a Threatened Lake of the Year 2017?

Answer: My expectations are:

(I) The Lake Tanganyika is well known both by the local communities and the international community;

(II) Local and international awareness of the economic and ecological importance of the lake and current and potential lake threats;

(III) A common awareness at local and international level of the need to work together for sustainable management of Lake Tanganyika resources;

(IV) Pay attention of donors, technical and research institutions to provide technical, financial and scientific support for actions around Lake Tanganyika;

(V) Increased visibility and capacity building of the Lake Tanganyika Authority, which ensures regional coordination of sustainable lake management. 


Question: Lake Tanganyika and Biraturaba are member in the international Living Lakes Network and partner of Global Nature Fund since 2011. Have there already been joint project activities to save Lake Tanganyika?

Answer: Yes, together with Global Nature Fund we started the project “Clean Drinking Water for School Children” in 2012. The goal was to improve the living conditions for the local population. We installed water filter systems in the two poorest suburbs of Bujumburas - Kagwema and Rukaramu - on the northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. These provide safe drinking water to the school children. In 2013 a project focusing on the „Reduction of Deforestation by Planting Trees and Introducing Improved Cooking Stoves” followed in order to prevent deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss in the Burundian back country.

In 2017 GNF and Biraturaba plan to implement another drinking water project in the village of Gitaza; this is located 26 kilometres south of Bujumbura. With the implementation of the planned measures 800 households and 2,800 students could be provided with clean and safe drinking water and diseases caused by the consume of polluted water could be prevented. The project would improve the living conditions of the population in Gitaza enormously.