Rwanda like any other country in the world is throwing all its weight into actions to protect, preserve and improve the environment. This is an important concern in Rwanda as the country’s economy depends on agriculture, thus the need to safeguard land resources and all that that can add value to it.
When the land is degraded the economy is adversely affected. However, concern for the environment in most cases occurs late after the quality has been degraded.
Rwanda’s key environmental challenges concern deforestation, soil erosion, over grazing, misuse of wetlands and poor waste management associated with negative impacts on human health thus a hindrance to sustainable development of the country.
The situation worsened before and during the 1994 Genocide, which left the country in shambles. Returnees from exile were in dire need of settlements, leading to clearing of forests and wetlands in search of agricultural land and shelter.
Such high human needs resulted into environmental degradation. This state of affairs has led to reforming environmental policies, legal and institutional framework aimed at safeguarding environment, an indication of Government concern to awaken the minds of the public to the dangers of environmental degradation. This will promote and enhance the well being of the present and future generations.
Rwanda, just like any developing country, still faces the problem of poverty, and this pollutes the environment, creating environmental stress in a different way. Those who are poor and hungry will often destroy their immediate environment in order to survive.
They will cut down forests, their livestock will overgraze grasslands, they will crowd in congested cities and they will overuse marginal land.
Realising the magnitude of the problem, the Government of Rwanda has strengthened reform of strong environmental policy, legal and institutional instruments to safeguard the present and future generation to ensure sustainable development basing on Vision 2020.
The policy sets out institutional and legal reforms with a view to providing the country with a harmonious framework of coordination of sector and cross cutting policies.
Rwanda’s most pressing environmental problem is deforestation, due to increased demand for household fuel wood as a source of energy by both rural population and low income earners in town.
Other commercial products like charcoal, timber, poles, medicinal herbs, food stuffs have greatly led to deforestation. Forests were also cleared in search of agricultural land and shelter for returnees, after the 1994 Genocide in the country.
This has had a negative impact on the environment such as; soil erosion, climatic changes and loss of biodiversity. Environmentalists responded to tree planting as a necessary call to restore the lost forest cover in Rwanda.
Selected seedlings are planted in all provinces of the country by environmentalists in collaboration with all stakeholders and local community. Forests like Gishwati in the North, Akagera in the East are the most affected by deforestation.
Rapid development and increasing urbanisation with population growth has resulted in increased solid waste generation.
Domestic activities and places near hospitals, markets and industries generate a lot of waste, which is a menace to the environment.
To ensure the protection of environment and of human health, the Government of Rwanda banned totally the importation and use of polythene bags.
Collecting, sorting and transporting garbage to dumpsites by environmentalists has availed the population with household cooking materials, fertilisers and employment opportunities especially women in Kigali city. The strategy has given Rwanda and in particular Kigali City a clean face.
Despite the 1994 Genocide, Rwanda has embarked on developmental activities which need to be accompanied with comprehensive environmental policies if sustainable development is to be achieved.
It has established Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA), provincial and district committees responsible for environmental protection.
The national policy contains strategic options with regard to population, land and management and utilisation of natural resources and other socio-economic sectors, as well as actions for the implementation of the policy.
Poverty reduction strategy is one of the tools which ensure sustainable development, since poor people who directly depend on natural resources cannot take care of environment due to its long term process.
Poverty remains the worst enemy of environment because people don’t have any other alternative other than resources like land, forests to meet their needs.
Sensitising and mobilising the population targeting women and youth on environmental concerns will impart knowledge and skills to a wide range of people in the country and other stakeholders.
High on the agenda is the establishment of regional and international cooperation to contribute effectively to the environment protection. This applies to shared resources like Lake Victoria which is shared among the East African countries.
The environmental policy emphasizes the improved management of environment, both at central and local levels, in accordance with the current policy of decentralisation and good governance of the country.