Lake Tanganyika

Abundant Biodiversity

No place on earth holds such a variety of life. Lake Tanganyika harboured over 2000 different species, of which more than half were found nowhere else. Its jellyfish, fish and molluscs so much resemble marine species that early researchers assumed the lake was connected to the sea. Now, we know that it never was, but that the rifting of the continent and 12 million years had spawned an amazing array of species with a stunning likeness to marine species - by chance.

There are four protected areas bordering Lake Tanganyika: Rusizi Natural Reserve in Burundi (a Ramsar Site), Gombe Stream National Park (home of Jane Goodall's chimpanzees) and Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania and Nsumbu National Park in Zambia.

Abundant Resources

The fisheries of Lake Tanganyika were based on only six of those species, two sardine fish and four Lates species. The catch is nonetheless enormous, providing direct employment to 100,000 people and a livelihood to ten times that many. The lake furthermore provides direct access to clean drinking water and is an important route for trade between and beyond the riparian countries. The surrounding forests are used for firewood, charcoal and many non-timber products. The lake is vital to the estimated 10 million people living in the basin.

Uncontrolled development

The question was how long the lake would remain the source of life for its species and people if action was not taken. The use of destructive fishing gears and over fishing threatened to deplete the fish stocks. Pollution from domestic and industrial wastes was increasing. Abattoirs, breweries, paint industry, and battery manufacturers in Burundi's capital and the many smaller cities surrounding the lake, released their untreated water directly into the lake. Large quantities of sediment were being deposited in the lake due to deforestation and tillage practices. Invasive species in the lake were on the increase. In general, the lake suffered from uncontrolled and unplanned development.

Planning the future

The Governments of Burundi, Democratic Republic Congo, Tanzania and Zambia developed a legal convention for the management of Tanganyika's shared resources. The text was being finalized before it began the ratification process.

The riparian nations collaborated on a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis and produced a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) as part of a GEF/UNDP intervention. The SAP, a series of national actions in support of regional conservation and sustainable management goals, prioritized the most urgent interventions in pollution control, sediment control and fisheries management. The riparian countries developed detailed project proposals to address these priorities.

Concrete outputs

The Lake Tanganyika project worked at the regional and national levels to set common goals and implement specific actions for the sustainable management of the Lake's water resources. At the regional level, the project:

  1. Improved information exchange between research institutes and the riparian states
  2. Monitored the resources and state of the lake
  3. Set common criteria for acceptable level of sediments, pollution, and water quality in general
  4. Supported the ratification of the convention
  5. Designed and established a lake basin management authority

At the national level, the project:

  1. Controled pollution in Burundi, mainly in the capital city Bujumbura, through the treatment of wastewater and solid waste
  2. Controled water hyacinth
  3. Controled sediments in Congo and Tanzania by improved catchment management, for instance through reforestation and fuel efficient stoves
  4. Controlled pollution of domestic wastewater in Tanzania
  5. Developed alternative livelihoods


Partners of the project were the Governments of Burundi, DR Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, UNDP/GEF, African Development Bank, UNOPS, and IUCN Water Programme

Duration and cost

The project was scheduled to take 5 years at a total cost of US$ 27 million.