An artificial lake could be created in former Gikondo Industrial Zone in Kigali once the relocation of all the factories there to the Special Economic Zone is completed, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) has said.
Although she could not give more details, Annette Karenzi, the director-general of industry and entrepreneurship at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and EAC Affairs, told The New Times that the first phase of relocating Gikondo industries is complete and that they have lately embarked on the second phase.
The relocation from the decades-old industrial zone became necessary after the area was gazetted by REMA as a wetland, and the first phase involved relocating light industries, while the next phase will see heavy duty plants moved.
Despite the delayed relocation process, REMA has already embarked on a plan to turn the encroached area into other environmental friendly aspects.
Eng. Coletha Ruhamya, the director-general of REMA, told The New Times that by the end of the year, a study would have been completed detailing the viability of turning the Gikondo industrial hub into an artificial lake.
“We want the industries to expeditiously relocate and see how we can create an artificial lake in the area with waste, dirt sieving technology for water flowing into the man-made lake. A study to be conducted will have been completed by the end of this year. Then after we can start mobilising funds for implementation,” she said.
According to Ruhamya, the study will show the lake demarcations and it can be implemented either as a government project or public private partnership because it can be designed as an income generating venture.
“We have already received some requests to exploit the wetland area but requests are of a small area. We have first to clear the entire wetland. Artificial lakes exist in other cities. Once the lake is developed, there should be attractive and environmental friendly commercial activities for leisure so that that people could come for recreation,” she added.
Gikondo Industrial Zone was gazetted a wetland in 2005.
The law that gazetted the area prohibits construction of houses and other infrastructure in wetlands (rivers, lakes, swamps) as they might damage such a place in various ways.
However, the law says that, where necessary, construction of buildings intended for the promotion of tourism may be authorised by the minister in charge of environment.
Ruhamya said an assessment was conducted some time back in ensuring infrastructure are relocated from national wetlands, especially endangered wetlands including Gikondo wetland.
She said the quest to restore endangered wetlands is not limited to Kigali, adding that they are casting the net wider.
“What worries me is the fact that encroachment continues to escalate countrywide and we have to ensure we reclaim them,” Ruhamya said.
According to Ruhamya, proper and sustainable use of wetlands has shown environmental benefits, including disaster risk reduction, since wetlands help purify water and once well conserved, can avert disasters like floods.
According to the National Disaster Risk Atlas, published by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR) in 2015, disasters, including those induced by unprotected wetlands could cost Rwanda a massive Rwf100 billion ($132 million), bigger than the budget allocated to the agriculture sector.
Effects of Gikondo wetland degradation on EAC region
The efforts to protect Gikondo wetland is part of Lake Victoria Environment Management Project (LVEMP) project, which operates in five Eastern African countries that share Lake Victoria basin (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).
The LVEMP project was the first to identify Gikondo wetland as polluted and degraded area.
The East African countries initiated the project to examine the sources of pollution to Lake Victoria and one of the sources was traced to Gikondo wetland through Akagera River.
Studies indicate that industrial waste has polluted the Gikondo wetland, which snakes through the Nyabugogo-Akagera wetland complex, eventually ending up in Lake Victoria.
Environmentalists argue that degradation of Gikondo wetland does not only have impact on Lake Victoria but also on water supply system in Kigali city.
Aware of this, Rwanda Environment Management Authority embarked on saving Gikondo wetland from total degradation.
The low-lying wetland also faced informal settlements with poor sanitation system that also polluted both surface and groundwater.