Africa’s second biggest lake, Burundi’s Lake Tanganyika persists at levels not seen in decades.
Amissa Irakoze has never been afraid of Lake Tanganyika in her 40 years of living on the water’s edge. Floods were frequent, sometimes lapping at her front door, but they always subsided.
She had no idea what would happen in April 2020. Irakoze returned home from laboring in the fields to find her house in northwest Burundi under water and her ten children disappeared.
“I cried, ‘My children, my children, my children!'” claimed the single mother, miming a desperate motion.
“The children were washed away, but other people nearby who could swim used boats to rescue them and bring them to me.” All of them amazingly survived.
The floods have not retreated two years later, and Africa’s second biggest lake persists at levels not seen in decades, pushed outward by irregular and intense rains related to global warming.
Irakoze and her family are stranded in a temporary camp behind Gatumba, a lakeside city.
Those evicted from their farm have little options for entertainment, with their children spending their time playing in the camp’s alleys.
“We used to farm and perform odd things to make ends meet. But in the time, we’ve been here, we’ve done nothing “Lea Nyabenda, a mother of ten who arrived at the camp two years ago, agreed.
“Life is horrible, and the lack of shelter and food makes me nervous. Sleeping in a location like this when we had a lovely large home, “she said.
Gatumba has developed dramatically in recent decades as a result of its closeness to Burundi’s huge neighbor to the west, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Construction in Gatumba has accelerated as cross-border commerce has accelerated, although some new residences have sprung up on a watery plain where development was forbidden.
One such location was Nyabenda’s former neighborhood.
Her suburb became a swamp as the lake level rose. Some houses are still standing, but the majority are waterlogged ruins surrounded by lush grass.
“This is where my home used to be,” Nyabenda remarked, halting in front of a pile of soil and fragments of wood and pointing out the locations of the bedrooms and living areas.
“I try not to come here. I can sense the tension building.”
There is a spooky vacancy in the neighborhood.
Schools and business enterprises “have been damaged, as have crops and plantations,” according to Geoffrey Kirenga, national director for the organization Save the Children.
Children make up around 65 percent of those displaced by the water. Most no longer have access to school or other forms of education and have begun working to support their families.
“Children are becoming interested in risky fishing. Because it is unprotected, it exposes them to bodily injury “Kirenga pointed to the dark lake teeming with hippos and crocodiles.
Save the Children anticipates the situation to deteriorate when the rainy season starts in Burundi, which the World Bank ranks as the poorest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita.
Political violence and civil unrest have driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in this small but densely populated country situated between Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda in recent decades.
Burundians are still migrating in large numbers, but the motivator is no longer man, but nature.
According to the International Organization for Migration, natural catastrophes were responsible for approximately 85 percent of the country’s 113,000 internally displaced persons (IOM).
Burundi is one of the world’s most susceptible countries to climate change, according to certain measurements.
Experts believe that a rise in yearly rainfall, especially severe tropical downpours, is feeding the massive lake that spans the length of Burundi’s southern border.
Other causes, though, might be contributing to Tanganyika’s remarkable growth, according to Albert Mbonerane, the country’s former environment minister and an advocate for Tanganyika conservation.
For decades, the lake has ebbed and flowed in cycles.
However, the quantity of rubbish put into the lake’s waterways has increased dramatically, and its single outflow – a stream heading into Congo – might be closed, preventing levels from lowering, according to Mbonerane.
He said that there has been no change in lake height since 2020.
“When I see all of the solid trash, everything that is dumped into these rivers… the lake nearly pukes as if to scream, ‘What do you expect me to do about it?'” he added.
Bujumbura, the country’s main city, likewise extends around the lake to the east of Gatumba.
Plots of land have been inundated, and part of a four-lane road that originally ran along the coast is now submerged.
“When we speak about the environment, it might look like we’re simply telling a narrative. But the truth is out there “Mbonerane said.