The rising water levels of Lake Tanganyika have severely affected three communes in Rumonge province
Since the beginning of the rainy season in March 2021, the waters of Lake Tanganyika have been rising steadily, flooding many neighborhoods in the coastal provinces and causing significant property damage and population displacement.
The most affected provinces include Bujumbura, Bujumbura Mairie, Makamba, and Rumonge, located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Rumonge province has been especially hard hit. Three of its five communes, namely Bugarama, Muhuta and the town of Rumonge (Kanyenkoko district), have suffered considerable damage as a result of the overflowing waters of Lake Tanganyika. Nearly 68 hectares of farmland have been flooded in the town of Rumonge and in Bugarama. Access to some properties by the lake is also blocked by stagnant water. Some infrastructures, such as the port of Rumonge and the isolation and referral center for suspect COVID-19 cases, are only a few meters away from the water. Murembwe River in Kanyenkoko has also overflown and spilled into palm plantations.
Significant damage reported
According to the Provincial Platform’s assessments, 2,217 households have been affected, including 1,666 people who have been displaced. Over 1,600 houses were damaged in the urban area of Rumonge, particularly in the neighborhoods of Teba, Kanyenkoko and Nkayamba, but also in the villages of Magara I, Magara II, Cashi, and Muhuta. Approximately 32 displaced households in this area are staying in a warehouse commonly referred to as CEMINA. The remaining households live with host families. Some households in Bugarama and Muhuta are staying with families in the flood-prone communes of Kabezi and Rutumo, while others are refusing to leave the flooded areas despite repeated appeals from the administration to do so due to fears of not being able to survive elsewhere.
The floods are taking place in an already challenging context, marked by the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 and an increased number of locally transmitted cases. Movement of people between neighborhoods following the floods could accelerate the spread of the disease. Displaced families living in sites may also find themselves in crowded spaces where COVID-19 preventive measures may be difficult to follow.
This situation is also undermining the livelihoods of already vulnerable populations, who used to get their living from fishing in the lake. Commercial activities at the port of Rumonge, which provided employment for the population as well as revenue for the province, have also been slowed down. This could further exacerbate vulnerabilities and drive new people into need.
There are also concerns that agricultural households located near the lake will not be able to harvest in June and will depend on assistance until the next harvest in the beginning of 2022. The flood affected areas remain at risk of resurgence of cholera and malaria and there is an urgent need for indoor spraying, increased access to water and sanitation, and epidemiological surveillance. In addition, there are concerns over possible aggressions by aquatic animals, due to the rising water levels. In addition, parts of the road linking Rumonge to Nyanza lac (Makamba province) have been destroyed, which has interrupted the transport of goods and persons on this route linking Bujumbura and Makamba province, which is bordering Tanzania.
Humanitarian response hampered by the lack of supplies
The humanitarian response in Rumonge remains timid due to resource limitations. At the same time, the number of affected people has risen due to continued inclement weather. Significant financial resources will be required to respond to the needs of the affected people. To date, the response has included, the provision of food (corn and oil) and cash transfers for 234 households . The shelter and non-food items (NFI) sectors have also provided kits containing kitchen items, as well as three mats, two blankets, three mosquito nets, two jerry cans (of 10 and 20 liters), two buckets of 20 liters each, and 24 pieces of soap. UNICEF has also distributed school kits to 630 affected children in Rumonge, although originally the kits were intended to only cover the needs of 200 children. The Psychosocial and Mental Health Workers Platform (Plateforme des intervenants en Psychosocial et en Santé Mentale - PPSM) in Rumonge has also distributed 153kg, 119 outfits and 90 sweaters for children under 5, as well as 41 garments for women.
The administration has put in place additional emergency response activities, such as raising awareness among the population living on the shores of the lake to encourage them to move to less exposed locations. It is also working to provide a relocation site for those who have lost their homes such as the Makombe site, which covers an area of 84.4 ares and can host up to 1,000 people. However, the conditions on the site remain precarious due to the poor condition of tents and latrines, as well as issues around water supply that do not allow for good hygiene conditions.
To cope with rising waters and floods that are expected to keep occurring in the coming years due to the effects of climate change, there is an urgent need for partners, including the local authorities, to consider more sustainable solutions, such as building water retention systems in the watersheds to limit the amount of waste carried by erosion into Lake Tanganyika . One of the reasons for the rising water levels of the lake could be linked to the alluvial deposits and the large quantities of soil coming from the hills into the lake. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the overexploitation of natural resources in the watersheds of Lake Tanganyika, causing soil erosion leading to landslides during heavy rainfall. Should the bottom of the basin fill with waste, the lake water will inevitably rise and overflow onto land. Aquatic species will also be threatened by this phenomenon. Another hypothesis is that the water in the lake can no longer drain away because of the overflow of the lake’s outlet, Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The waters continued to rise until the end of the rainy season in mid-May, and with full groundwater tables, it will take time for the water to infiltrate into the soils of flooded areas.