With ongoing environmental degradation in the Congo forest, researchers are working on regional interventions to save the Congo River and its sources from consequences that could cause it to dry up.
A team of researchers from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo studying environmental hazards around the Congo River for five years, found cases of encroachment of the ecosystem that could lead to its death.
The Congo River basin spans six countries — Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), DRC, the Republic of Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Team leader Prof Preksedis Ndomba from the University of Dar es Salaam said that human activities including random tree felling for charcoal in the Congo Forest and other parts of the DRC, small and large scale farming within the River Congo ecosystem, industrial activities and the construction of mega hydropower generation station would cause the river to dry up.
Prof Ndomba said that the degradation of the river would affect DRC, Angola, Zambia, Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), South Sudan, Rwanda, CAR and Tanzania.
The Catholic Church in DRC concurs, saying that the Congo Forest has been disappearing slowly, partly due to clearing for subsistence agriculture, large-scale farming, illegal logging and lack of clear reforestation policies.
The Catholic Church, through the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources, is pushing for positive natural resource management.
Cardinal Frivolling Basing of Kinshasa said in a statement seen by The East African that River Congo’s water level had dropped due to failing rains in the Congo Forest and the Congo River Basin which covers four million sq km or 300 million acres.
“The Congo Forest is second by size in the world after the Amazon Forest. Illegal tree felling and wood business is estimated to cost the Republic of Congo about $10 billion every year,” Cardinal Basing said.
The National Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources of the Congolese Catholic Bishops Conference Henri Masambate said that uncontrolled industrial activities and logging in the Congo Basin remain a big challenge on the River Congo environmental set-up.
He said that pollution by extractive companies, cattle herding from CAR and Chad have invaded the basin's forests in the quest for water and pasture.
Mr Masambate said the Catholic Church has observed disruption of seasons, massive flooding and drought in northeastern DRC which are affecting rivers in the Congo basin.
Ubangi River which is the largest tributary of the Congo River has declined over the past few years causing the waters of Atlantic Ocean to rise and flow into Congo River’s estuary every year, said Mr Masambate.
So far, the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources has collected data to inform the bishops, trained the population, and worked to influence laws and promote responsible attitudes on environmental protection.
"Through awareness, planting trees in schools and other institutions, one can see a concern to preserve the forest to combat climate change," said Mr Masambate.