Lake Edward, known locally as Rwitanzigye or Rweru, is one of the smaller African Great Lakes. However, its diminished size does not make the lake any less significant than its larger counterparts. Lake Edward is a designated Ramsar site due to its wetland habitat that provides a home to several animal and bird species. The area surrounding the lake holds Africa’s oldest park, Virunga National Park, which is also a famous gorilla sanctuary.
Geography Of Lake Edward
This stunning lake lies in the Albertine Rift, the East African Rift’s western branch. It straddles the border between the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Uganda. It flows at a high elevation of 3,020 feet within the Western Rift Valley and is 48 miles long. The lake covers 898 square miles and receives water from several rivers. Lake Edward’s location offers breathtaking landscape views and is a vital source of potable water for both countries. Moreover, the elevated waters support fragile ecosystems and vulnerable communities within its immediate vicinity.
Lake Edward’s geological history dates back around 12 million years. It formed after tectonic activity rocked the region. This tectonic activity is also associated with the East African Rift System. It took millions of years for the rift to fill with water, giving rise to the lake.
Ecology Of Lake Edward
Lake Edward has 25 formally described fish species swimming in its depths, which provides food for residents. Chimpanzees, lions, elephants, and crocodiles roam free along its banks. Migratory and perennial birds live here, dipping in and out of the rippling water in search of fish.
Sadly, the lake’s once thriving hippo population, 29,000 strong in the 1970s has declined by 95% due to a sharp rise in poaching. In 2019, a terrestrial census concluded that only 1,500 hippos remained there. This terrible turn of events hurt the tilapia fish species, which feeds on hippo dung. Less dung meant less tilapia, which eventually impacted the ecosystem and the fishermen from the surrounding villages.
Lake Edward Climate
The lake’s climate is nearly identical to the Albertine Rift's and includes two rainy seasons. The highlands region receives more rain than the lake, and the temperatures fluctuate between 15 – 21 degrees Celsius. The moderating effect of the lake on the climate holds multiple benefits for agriculture in the area. However, as with too many other lakes in Africa, climate change is a challenge that no one can ignore or wish away. The threat of climate change is impacting the region more and more every year and brings the potential for devastating extreme weather events.
Lake Edward’s Volcanoes
The region surrounding Lake Edward holds evidence of volcanic activity taking place over the last 5000 years. Either side of the Kazinga Channel, which lies on the northwest shore, is covered in volcanic fields with massive cones and craters. Scientists believe that Lake George and Lake Edward were once a super lake that split when lava flowed into it. The Kazinga Channel is the only reminder of what was once a massive body of water.
Brief History of Lake Edward
The lake was discovered by Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American explorer, in 1888. Stanley was on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition when he happened upon the lake and named it after Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. The lake was renamed Lake Idi Amin in 1973 after the Ugandan dictator but got its old name back after the overthrow of Amin's government in 1979.
There was no shortage of conflict surrounding the lake, with an oil dispute disturbing the peace in 2014. Oil giant SOCO International was adamant that it wanted to prospect for oil in the lake's vicinity. Villages and workers who tried to stop the prospecting were assaulted, kidnapped, and tortured. At one point, there was a working plan to reestablish the boundaries of the Virunga National Park and exclude the lake. But this plan couldn’t be realized because the park is a world heritage site.
In 2018, a naval conflict rocked the lake when the Uganda and DRC navy clashed on the water. Twelve fishermen allegedly died during a dispute over the apprehension of Congolese fishing vessels and civilians.
Lake Edward Today
Despite intermittent reports of conflict, Lake Edward remains a natural African wonder. Preserving the lake and the surrounding regions is a global responsibility and will ensure the prosperity of human settlements and protect biodiversity.