Launch of the Great Lakes to Great Lakes Initiative

The North American and African Great Lakes systems hold nearly half of the world's surface freshwater resources. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)
The North American and African Great Lakes systems hold nearly half of the world’s surface freshwater resources. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)

The United States Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Russell Feingold, in collaboration with the Lake Tanganyika Authority (LTA), launched a unique initiative this week to bring together experts from the North American Great Lakes with counterparts from the African Great Lakes to address sustainable management of these transboundary waters. ‎ Together the North American and African Great Lakes systems hold nearly half of the world’s surface freshwater resources.‎

 

Participants gather at the inaugural Great Lakes to Great Lakes Initiative on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma, Tanzania (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)
Participants gather at the inaugural Great Lakes to Great Lakes Initiative on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma, Tanzania (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)

Over three days on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma, Tanzania, scientists, academics and policymakers from the United States and Canada engaged in an in-depth exchange with colleagues from countries around one of the African Great Lakes‎, Lake Tanganyika, including Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia. ‎

Through presentations and break-out sessions, conference attendees discussed the challenges involved in the management of the North American and African Great Lakes including:

  • Threats to fisheries‎;
  • Harmful algal blooms;
  • Invasive species; and
  • Climate change.

Special Envoy Feingold remarked, “This tremendous exchange is one example of the positive benefits of strengthened cooperation between the countries of the African Great Lakes region, as well as a rare opportunity to learn from each other about our respective approaches to key environmental issues.”

Participants in the conference worked together to‎ identify priority areas for further collaboration. Future sessions of the “Great Lakes to Great Lakes Initiative” are expected to focus on these topics, as well as on other African Great Lakes.

Susan Hedman, Great Lakes National Manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, opened the conference by emphasizing “the scale of the resource management challenges in the North American and African Lakes systems, which hold almost half of the earth’s surface freshwater resources.”

In early 2012, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia adopted a multi-lateral strategic action plan to protect biodiversity and sustainable development of natural resources in the Lake Tanganyika basin. Lake Tanganyika is the largest of the African Great Lakes. Later that year, the U.S. and Canada updated the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which has governed bi-national management of the North American Great Lakes since 1972.‎

Jean-Marie Nibirantije, the Director of the Lake Tanganyika Authority, emphasized the importance of confronting threats to biodiversity and sustainable use of the lake’s resources: “Discussions with experts from the North American Great Lakes allowed us to understand that many of the problems we are facing are shared by our colleagues.  This initiative has given new hope for a sustainable partnership to find new solutions.”