Rwanda National Police’s Environmental Protection Unit (EPU), along with several other stakeholders, have joined efforts to sensitive people living around Gishwati-Mukura National Park to fight illegal mining and environmental degradation activities in and around the park.
On May 4, officers attached to EPU, Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), and officials from the Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) under Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Rwanda Natural Resources Authority and Rwanda Development Board met with over 400 residents of Manihira and Rusebeya sectors of Rutsiro District in an awareness exercise to conserve the habitat.
The officials underlined the dangers of illegal mining and encouraged the residents to form cooperatives and acquire licenses if they are to conduct any mining activity.
The Director of Police’s Environment Protection Unit, Supt. Modeste Mbabazi, observed that illegal mining is one of the major causes of soil erosion.
Experts say that illegal mining leads to loss of biodiversity and contamination of underground water by chemicals from the mines.
“Normally, those practicing illegal mining cut down trees and this has a major impact on the environment, which we should fight through information exchange. There are proper means, provided for in the law, how and where to mine,” said Supt. Mbabazi.
Article 438 of the penal code stipulates that any person who undertakes illegal research or illegally carries out commercial activities in valuable minerals, shall be liable to imprisonment of up to one year or/and a fine of up to Rwf10 million.
Earlier, 21 people were arrested after they were found mining illegally in a concession Remera Sector in Rutsiro District.
They are currently held at Gihango Police station.
“Having a license doesn’t exempt you from being penalised if you violated mining standards or conduct any activities that endanger the ecosystem,” Supt. Mbabazi warned.
The Environmental Protection Unit operates under the Criminal Investigation Department and is mandated to protect the environment in all aspects, including air space, forestry and biodiversity, as well as the enforcement of different legal instruments that protect environment.
Rwanda seeks to achieve a 30 per cent forest cover in the country.
So far, forest cover stands at 28 per cent of the country’s surface area.
Patrick Nsabimana, the coordinator of LAFREC, urged the residents to be part of the efforts to increase forest cover, restore indigenous woodland in deforested areas, and enhance the biodiversity of the degraded forest reserves.
LAFREC is a US$9.5 million five-year project that seeks to restore the highly degraded Gishwati-Mukura landscape, boosting land management of the two forests (now a national park), and improving local livelihoods, environment and climate resilience within the area.
Jean d’Amour Bagirijabo, an official from Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, spoke of the advantages of streamlining and regulating the mining industry.