An InfoNile Original Feature
By Prosper Kwigize
For the past 100 years, smooth docking at Kigoma Harbor of Lake Tanganyika was almost daily routine for MV Liemba, one of the world’s oldest ships, manufactured about 100 years ago in Germany.
But now things have changed. Near-flawless docking is impossible! The lake is shrinking. The shoreline is rugged. And the MV Leimba docks barely afloat in water.
“The drop in the water level is affecting the port’s activities,” notes Moris Mchindiuza, the Kigoma harbor Manager in Kiswahili.
“Decreasing water levels on the shores and around Kigoma harbor is affecting smooth docking of MV Liemba and other ships.”
He believes the ship now risks running on ground which could damage it.
Kigoma harbor provides marine services to more than 30 million inhabitants of Tanganyika Lake basin region in Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Lake Tanganyika is the second largest (by volume) and second deepest lake in the world. It is the longest freshwater lake in the world with a length of 650 km and a width of 50 km at its widest point. Its basin covers an area of about 250,000 km2.
Besides municipal and industrial water supply, Lake Tanganyika is a source of water for irrigation, fisheries and transport among several other purposes.
The lake receives its water from direct precipitation and several rivers, 20 of which are in six regions of Tanzania: Kigoma, Katavi, Tabora, Rukwa, Shinyanga and Songwe.
However, the presence of all these inlets has not prevented the lake height from severe fluctuations, according to statistics from United States Department of Agriculture, indicating a significant decreasing trends in water storage in the last two decades.
Drag the scroll bar to the right to see how Lake Tanganyika has shrunk between 2003 and 2017. Juxtapose created by Code for Africa using Google Earth satellite imagery.
Shrinking of Lake Tanganyika is not only affecting MV Liemba but also thousands of fishermen whose livelihoods depend on this water resource.
Abdalla Sendwe, a fisherman says the number of fish he used to catch in the lake has reduced over the past years.
He has witnessed the water levels drop over the recent decades and he thinks this could be the reason behind the loss of MV Liemba’s dock space.
Also, “the fish and other water creatures have no safe place to stay in now,” laments Sendwe.
Equally, Alhaji Amir Hamim, 68, a resident of Kigoma region, whose life depended on commercial fishing in Lake Tanganyika, says he was forced to venture into crop farming after fishing failed to generate enough income to support his family.
“Most fishmongers have turned to other economic activities for a living following the shortage of fish,” he narrates.
“Those who remained in this activity are now living in extreme poverty.”
In 2016, a study in the 8 August edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by US researchers that examined sediment samples drilled from Lake Tanganyika bed in the last 1,500 years found that fish in this lake was declining due to climate change and not overfishing as had earlier been thought.
According to this study, the lake had been warming since the 19th century. This according to the study led to a decrease in the fish’s food which subsequently decreased its numbers.
Tanzanian government reported recently that Lake Tanganyika has lost about 1.5 cubic meters of its water and its beaches have lost about 500 meters equivalent to 0.5 kilometers in Ujiji area.
It blames the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo for having removed the built water barriers between Lukuga River and Lake Tanganyika. This is reportedly draining water from Lake Tanganyika to Lukuga and Congo rivers.
Other causes it mentions include industrial pollution, climate change, irrigation, uncontrolled settlements and poor town planning in areas close to the lakes in Kigoma, Rukwa and Katavi in Tanzania, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Samson Anga, Kigoma District Commissioner acknowledges the negative effects of urbanization on the lake.
He notes that encroachments have affected the drainage into and out of the lake leading to siltation pollution. This is reducing the depth of the lake according to Anga.
“It does not make sense for a person to build at a reserve or mountainous area, knowing that it is dangerous to the environment,” Anga emphasizes.
He adds that the role of protecting and maintaining the lake does not only rely on government but every citizen. He wants users of Lake Tanganyika to be responsible for its future.
Mahmod Mgimwa is the chairperson for Tanzania’s permanent parliamentary committee responsible for water, agriculture and livestock issues. Recently he and his committee members conducted a tour of Kigoma area. They assessed the irrigation project on River Luiche, one of the inlets of Lake Tanganyika as well as the water project in Kigoma Municipality among others.
According to Mgimwa, the government of Tanzania knows the negative impacts of development projects such as irrigation, and unplanned water withdraw from the lake but various measures are being taken to ratify the situation and conserve the lake.
He wants the Tanganyika water harvest project to devise means of recycling domestic water within Kigoma municipality, so it can return to the source after utilization.
In its 2006-2025 Water Sector Development Program, Kigoma region intends to develop a basin-wide Integrated Water Resources Management and Development (IWRMD) Plan for the Lake Tanganyika Basin.
IWRMD plan will safeguard the basin’s water resources and establish a framework to improve the livelihood of people living in the basin. The plan will also promote equitable, efficient, environment protection and socially sustainable water resources development.
This article was made possible thanks to support from InfoNile and Code for Africa.