DR Congo – Toxic Gas Threatens Communities

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Lake Kivu sees rising levels of noxious gases as concerns for the welfare of local communities grows.

DR Congo’s Lake Kivu, particularly the Gulf of Kabuno, in the eastern part of the country, is seeing increased seepage from underground carbon dioxide; according to the Ministry of Energy and Water, in 2008 the gas was around 25 metres below the surface but now it is around 12 metres.

One fisherman said, “If you leave the fishing net long inside the water, the gas destroys it, and if you go into the lake, the skin becomes white. That scares me,” reported Deutschewelle.

However other commentators have said that the situation has yet to be scientifically proven. Even though CO2 is nontoxic to humans, in large quantities it hinders the absorption of oxygen which can lead to death. Areas that could be affected include villagers around the Gulf of Kabuno, and the United Nations (UN) mission MONUSCO stationed nearby.

The Congolese government, despite not confirming the threat, has moved to implement as US$3 million project to remove the carbon dioxide from underneath the lake.

Engineers have installed a platform 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from shore with a pipe that extends down to the lakefloor. Project Manager at Limnological Engineering, Pierre Lebrun, said that then a special piece of equipment, a gas lift, pulls the water to the surface where the CO2 is separated off.

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However a large part of the problem is that underneath the lake are two active volcanoes, Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira, so the pipes would have to remain in the lake to deal with the constant stream of the gas.

The lake also emits methane, although more on the Rwandan side than in DR Congo. The Rwandan authorities have sought to produce electricity from the methane emitted, and Kigali and Kinshasa are seeking to construct a shared methane power station.

Similarly the Congolese government wants to plant around 360 hectares of land with 560,000 eucalyptus trees, although there are concerns, as there are across much of the African continent, that quick growing non-native species such as eucalyptus are used as a quick fix for forest cover statistics.

There also remain concerns that efforts to pump out the gas will mean that the purified water will be pumped back into the lake, potentially dislodging the chemical nature of different water layers. Mathieu Yalire from Goma Volcanological Observatory said that “it would be a disaster if the remaining water would be in the bio-zone. That would destroy the ecosystem. The fish and other animals may no longer exist,” and this would have enormous consequences for the people who depend on fishing the lake as a livelihood.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

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Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, No.2, Pp.21167A–21167B

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