Landslide aftermath: Gakenke residents appeal for help to fix damaged bridges


One of bridges destroyed by the recent landslides in Gakenke. The bridge connects Gakenke, Muhanga and Nyabihu districts. (Regis Umurengezi)

Gakenke residents have appealed to authorities to repair bridges that were left shattered by the heavy rains and landslides that hit the district nearly two weeks ago.

The landslides claimed 35 lives, destroyed 460 houses and 1,250 hectares of gardens while several feeder roads were rendered impassable after several bridges were destroyed.

The devastation of bridges has not only kept students and teachers away from school, but has also made health facilities and markets inaccessible, residents say.

Farmers who used to take their produce to markets or waited for vehicles to collect their produce from community collection centres say they are now counting losses.

As the district tries to recover from the effect of the disaster, residents including school head teachers and businesspeople, say the devastation has paralysed business in the affected areas.

“Most of the bridges were completely or partially destroyed by the landslides so much the roads are not accessible,” said Jean Damascene Habyarimana, the head teacher of Ecole Secondaire Karuganda.

“Our school is not accessible any more, we are therefore, cut off from food and other supplies which we normally buy from markets in Musanze and Gakenke towns,” he said.

Habyarimana added that they had resorted to using labourers to carry foodstuff on their heads or bicycles to the school, which he said is very costly.

The school has over 800 students and is located six kilometres away from the main road with two key bridges on the way – which were destroyed.

Businesses also complained that they find it difficult to go to farms to buy such produce as fruits and vegetables.

“At the moment it is difficult to do business in this area; roads have been inaccessible for almost two weeks now, it is expensive for us to hire bicycles to transport produce. We are, therefore, appealing to those concerned to help fix these bridges to get us out of isolation,” said Emmanuel Nduwimana, a businessman dealing in agricultural produce.

The Gakenke District vice mayor in charge of economic affairs, Jean François Aimé Niyonsenga, admitted that the issue of ravaged bridges is affecting residents because they were cut off from neighbouring districts.

But he said renovation works were scheduled to start soon.

He said area residents had already fixed bridges connecting small feeder roads during community work (umuganda) while the district awaits support from Government to renovate major bridges.

“Renovating some of the bridges requires a lot of funds, we have requested for financial support and engineers have visited the sites to identify what is needed and works are expected to start soon,” he said.

“Over 10 bridges, some of which connect Gakenke to Muhanga and Musanze districts, were damaged significantly that their renovation is beyond the district’s capacity,” he added.

He also praised residents for having improvised by putting up temporary bridges in some areas that pedestrians and bicycles use.

Officials from the Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) said plans to renovate the damaged roads are underway and a team has been assigned to carry out assessment of the damage and the budget needed before the works could start.

They said that the assessment process had delayed a bit because some areas were still inaccessible.

“We are accessing the situation on the ground to identify where and how we should intervene and are treating the issue with the urgency it deserves,” Jean Damascène Bizumuremyi, RTDA’s head of transport planning and operations department, told The New Times.