Lake KIVU is one of the African Great Lakes, a series of lakes in the eastern part of Africa’s Rift Valley, and is home to the world’s 10th-largest inland island. It is a beautiful place where the color of sea and sky are often so close that it is impossible to discern a horizon. Dominating the border between Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest lake in Africa. The real joy of this area is driving between the towns, and it’s a lovely option for a slower route between Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park. The road gently curves back and forth as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake from Rubavu district in the north all the way to Rusizi, with Karongi districts almost at its centre point. Every corner produces another gorgeous view. Eucalyptus trees line the road, while every inch of the hills seems to be terraced with bananas. Villagers smile and wave, and children constantly call out “Muraho(how are you).”
This lake is saturated with methane gas that, if extracted properly, can be used to power a country where only 20 percent of residents have electricity. But the same lake that could hold the key to modernization is also one of the country’s biggest threats. Like the other two “killer lakes” in the world—Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos, both in Cameroon—Lake Kivu sits near a chain of volcanoes whose nearby springs pump carbon dioxide into the water. Under normal conditions, that gas and any others found in the lake, such as methane, sit under an enormous weight of pressure from the water above. As a result of the water pressure, the gases essentially dissolve and saturate the lake’s deepest waters. Around Kivu lake in Nyamasheke and Rusizi districts, the government has implemented the policy of living 50 m from the lake as a zone free of agriculture and any other activities. But some of these places are planted with herbs and some other places are still desert.
Planting herbs in places with high slopes was one of the solutions to protect the waters of this beautiful lake because erosion and big floods of rains that occur during the raining seasons continue to damage the lake and affect the production of fish. In some places near the lake you can observe the substantial degradation of the environment where there are markets and in places where individuals make boats at the offshore of the lake: Rusizi Boarder post, Cyangugu Port, Budike, Ihepfu, Busekanka, Nkombo island, Gihaya island, Shughuli, Mariba, Nyabitekeri, Ntango, Nyamitaka, Murwa, Kibogora, Shara, Shangi, Kirambo, Rugali, Kirimbi and Karengera. These activities have caused a large movement of people coming to the lake for commercial activities and people coming from DR Congo or go to other places in Rusizi, Nyamasheke, Karongi or Rubavu districts.
This had produced rapid population growth in recent decades in zones surrounding the lake Kivu. Such environmental conditions present some special problems for fish growing, water pollution, agriculture and environment degradation. These places and the shores of lake Kivu, these are places with less or with no trees. The steep gradients which are common in these highlands are vulnerable to water-caused soil erosion especially when tree clearance precedes cultivation of the soil. Such tree felling is often followed by increased surface runoff of rainwater, soil erosion, and increased desiccation, which can be seen where traditional water supplies such as springs & rivers have become dry. Many of these problems can be mostly seen in Mururu, Nkombo, Nyabitekeri, Murwa, and Kirambo in Nyamasheke and Rusizi Districts on the eastern flanks of Lake Kivu. Some of the steep-sided hills around Nkombo and Gihaya Islands show mass movement features, bare ground and eroded soil in places of good rainfall. In the lower areas near Budike, Mariba, Murwa and Kirambo, the combination of rapid deforestation and low, unreliable rains is threatening that locality with desertification.
Within Rusizi District, as in many other parts of Nyamasheke, there is a rapidly growing sense of the need to replant trees in order to protect the environment on which many households depend for their living. Vegetation and herbs growing on the slopes of Mururu, Nkombo, Nyabitekeri or Kirimbi hills of is a waste of effort and environment. In these areas during raining seasons there is vegetation but during the summer, it is a total desert. It is a bare patch of soil with no crops and many rills, which are indicative of water-caused soil erosion. To solve all these environmental problems, it will require concerted action involving many aspects of development e.g. better environmental education, increased opportunities for non-agricultural employment, specific soil conservation measures. However, a relatively simple way to start local communities working to improve their own environment is to put in place a tree-planting project that my association ODECOR (Organisation pour le Développement communautaire au Rwanda /Organization for the community development in Rwanda) has already initiated.