Water is Life: Virunga’s Lake Edward Should Receive the Same Protection as the Mountain Gorillas

When protecting Virunga much focus has been put on its immense biodiversity and on being the home to the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Virunga was established in 1925 as Africa’s very first national park but is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Site. Virunga’s Lake Edward lies completely within Virunga National Park in DR-Congo and Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda and is one of the 2.231 Ramsar Sites in the world, this designation marks a wetland of international importance. 

Lake Edward is important because of its biodiversity. It is home to many species of fish and perennial and migratory bird species. Fishing is also an important activity among local residents. Fauna living on the banks of the lake – including hippopotamus, chimpanzees, elephants, crocodiles, and lions – are protected by the national parks (source) but their lives also depend on the water they drink. The lake is home of one of the last remaining freshwater reservoirs in Central Africa. Lake Edward might be the smallest of the African Great lakes, but is one of the three African Great lakes that empties into the White Nile. The White Nile  is considered to be headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself feeding and providing freshwater for millions of people in whole Africa. In the current water and climate crisis, where water scarcity and conflict related issues are increasing, Lake Edward becomes an irreplaceable source of freshwater for the whole humanity.

Fisheries Lake Edward
Fisheries Lake Edward – Photo © Save Virunga

Water is life

Lake Edward needs the same protection as the last remaining mountain gorillas.

Virunga is exceptional not only because of its gorillas but because it represents one of the most mystical and valuable natural World Heritage sites in the world with outstanding values representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.

It is time to put the accent on Water and to unite for the defence of our Life. We are not too late to join the fight that many other organizations and communities have started.

Humans rely on clean fresh water to live and thrive, as do a great host of other species we share the land, water and air with. The great cycling of water through the different spheres of Earth sustains life as we know it.

Of all the water in the world, 98% percent is too salty to sustain life beyond the oceans. Just 2% of the water on Earth is fresh and only 0.5% of that is immediately available to us, the rest being locked up in ice caps, groundwater systems and soil.

Freshwater is renewed through a complex natural water cycle that connects oceans to mountains via the atmosphere and the land. This cycle facilitates the formation and movement of clouds, evapotranspiration in Earth’s forests, the transfer of clean water through rivers, streams and lakes, filtration of pollutants by wetlands and the recharging of groundwater aquifers.

As long as water is allowed to observe this natural cycle, supplies of fresh water can renew and purify themselves in perpetuity. However, when the water cycle is disrupted and sources of fresh water are depleted, polluted and exploited faster than the rate they can regenerate, the amount of fresh water available to humans, other species and whole ecosystems can be drastically reduced and even extinguished.

The Gaia Foundation


Protecting the totality of Lake Edward from oil exploration and exploitation is not a matter of conservation but a matter of survival. It concerns all of us: we are all connected. Water has no boundaries nor have the impacts of extractive industries as shown in the last report of the Gaia Foundation about the impact of oil and mining on water resources[1]:

Disruption and Destruction of Water Systems

In some cases, the locations chosen for mining operations or the type of mining employed can directly disrupt and destroy lakes, rivers, forests and other interconnected parts of the water cycle.

Pollution – Chronic and Disastrous

Water is never local or static. Its ability to transport nutrients throughout the water cycle also means that water can rapidly and invisibly spread pollution into neighbouring ecosystems and communities.

Mining, Water and Climate Change

Climate change is already exacerbating the global water crisis and is set to worsen it. The overall effect of a warming climate on water is to intensify and destabilise the hydrological cycle, causing both more frequent and destructive droughts and floods.

Fossil Fuels

The mining industry plays a key role in driving climate change by both consuming vast amounts of energy in the extraction of fossil fuels and then selling those fuels in the knowledge they will emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Reducing Resilience

Through its impacts on water and biodiversity, mining undermines the resilience of communities and ecosystems and their ability to adapt to climate change.

Destruction of Biodiversity

Another way in which mining drives climate change is by directly destroying biodiverse ecosystems that help regulate water cycles and the climate.

To Save Virunga and all its irreplaceable ecosystems we need to advocate for the Rights of Nature:


It widely recognized that a profound transformation of the dominant industrial system is required to deal with the multiple ecological, climatic, social, economic and political crises that now plague our planet. At the heart of this transformation, is the need to shift out of our human- centric worldview to embrace the reality that we are part of a dynamic living planet. This requires us to recognize that the Earth is lawful and ordered and human societies need to comply with the laws that govern nature, in order to ensure that the web of life is sustained. This is what has become known as Earth Jurisprudence, recognizing the lawfulness of the Earth and deriving human governance systems from this principle.

Given the magnitude of destruction caused by the dominant extractive economy, there is a growing movement across the planet calling for the Rights of Nature to be recognized and respected. This recognizes that every species and aspect of the Earth, has a right to be, a right to habitat and a right to participate in the evolutionary processes – by the very fact of existence. This is as true for humans as it is for everything else that exists on our planet.

… The nature of water is that it flows, and needs to flow to stay healthy and clean, assisted by the millions of organisms living in its medium. In order to ensure that water is able to regenerate itself through its cycles, we need to find ways to stop the destructive, toxic activities undermining its integrity. This is our responsibility to water and to all the species, which depend on water for life, including humans, for generations to come. Recognizing the Rights of Water, wherever we are, and ensuring destructive forces are held back, is a vital task for all who care for life.

Lake Edward – Semliki River Photo © Save Virunga

SV – based on Gaia’s findings and thinking “UnderMining the Water Cycle: Extractive Industries and a Planetary Water Crisis







[1] UnderMining the Water Cycle: Extractive Industries and a Planetary Water Crisis – reveals how the extractive industries are playing a key role in driving our planetary water crisis. Grabbing, destroying and polluting water systems, these industries are violating the UN Human Right to Water, denying all species the clean water they need to thrive and disrupting the water cycle itself. With a bold infographic, this report outlines the impacts mining has on water and climate change. It calls for a new water ethic that recognizes water’s own rights to remain clean, to flow and to follow its natural cycle.