Africa's lakes are source of livelihoods, but are under threat

Africa’s lakes are source of livelihoods, but are under threat

Africa’s lakes are a vital source of livelihoods for millions of Africans, from past to current and future generations.

Africa’s lakes are beautiful, serene and inspirational, but they can also be deadly as they are home to dangerous animals such as crocodiles, snakes, lethal fishes and other unknown species.

Africa’s wise men often say that the continent’s lakes are home to many invisible supernatural spirits and gods – good and bad – that either ‘protect’ surrounding communities or curse them if they abuse its waters.

This is why many fishermen say a little prayer to these spirits at dawn before starting their work, and go through the same process at daybreak, especially if the catch was good.

Lakes are the source of many great rivers in Africa, provide enormous amounts of freshwater fish and water to many of the continent’s inhabitants, Wetlands International Africa says, adding that they are home to unique aquatic and terrestrial species.


Wetlands International explains: “Lakes are important resources of water for agriculture, household use, but of course of fish. Lakes in Africa support 16-17% of inland fisheries, making Uganda one of the largest freshwater fish producers in the world.

“Across much of the continent, lake freshwater fisheries provide an important source of food and livelihood for millions of people.”

Africa is the place where one finds some of the largest lakes in the world. They are plenty of lakes in Africa, but the largest, deepest and strategic are undoubtedly the Great Lakes:

  • Lake Albert: one of the largest of Africa’s Great Lakes and the world’s 27th largest lake by volume. Rich in freshwater fish.
  • Lake Chad: located mainly in the far west of Chad, bordering northeastern Nigeria. Half of it comprises many small islands (including the Bogomerom archipelago).
  • Lake Edward:  located in the Great Rift Valley, along the border of DR Congo and Uganda.
  • Lake Victoria: Africa’s largest lake, it is the size of Ireland and second largest freshwater lake in the world in terms of surface area. Shared between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
  • Lake Tanganyika, located between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia. It is the second largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest after Lake Baikal in Russia. Rich in fish.

Other lakes include:

  • Lake Malawi, which has over 500 endemic fish species
  • Lake Natron (Kenya)
  • Lake Ichkeul in Tunisia
  • Lake Kivu (DRC)
  • Lake Fianga (in Chad and Cameroon)
  • Lake Turkana, formerly Lake Rudolf  in the Kenyan Rift Valley, with its far northern end crossing into Ethiopia. It is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake).
  • Lake Nasser or Lake Nubia (border Egypt-Sudan)
  • Lake Mweru (border DRC-Zambia, some 150km from Lake Tanganyika).
  • Lake Kariba: (Zambia and Zimbabwe, the world’s largest artificial lake).


Wetlands International Africa says deforestation, agricultural and industrial pollution, urban waste water and overfishing severely affect the health of many of the lakes and their water basins,

Rivers and streams that impact Africa’s lakes are also under threat.

Huge hydropower dams with extensive reservoirs decrease the critical water flow, but also block the routes of many migratory species, such as fish and manatees, the Dakar-based environmental organisation says.

“These dams are found throughout the continent: Kariba on the Zambezi River, Asuan in Egypt on the Nile River, and Akosombo, the biggest dam of the continent on the Volta River in Ghana.

“Furthermore, extensive irrigation for cash crop cultivation and other agriculture put severe limits on water availability, causing lake water levels to drop and turning permanent rivers into seasonal streams.”

Photo: Lake Ichkeul in Tunisia. Credit: Wetlands International Africa

(With the support of Wetlands International Africa and Wikipedia)

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One Response to Africa’s lakes are source of livelihoods, but are under threat

  1. SangwaniNkhwazi February 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Lake Malawi is currently under threat: see petition here