In Kigali City’s wetland slum of Gashiha in Kicukiro District, 60-year-old Juvenal Gasarasi casts fast and blinking glances at the sky. A dark cloud cover is gathering and all indications are that the rainy season is around the corner.
He looks at his dilapidated house and concludes that this time round, it will not remain upright when rains come. As he throws another glance at the sky, his mind runs to Rusheshe, a newly built area also in Kicukiro, where he and several others will soon be relocated.
“You can’t compare Rusheshe with here. Rusheshe is a great town even if it’s far from the city centre,” Gasarasi said when Sunday Times visited his home on Thursday.
The old man and his neighbours Claudine Cyimana and Virginie Mukazitoni are among the last 20 of the 318 families the district will relocate from different high risk areas to new homes where the rainy season won’t be catastrophic to them again.
But before the end of this month when construction of Gasarasi’s new home in Rusheshe area in Masaka Sector is completed, he and his neighbours are getting desperate with heavy rains expected to start pouring in early October. Their hope is that rains won’t find them still living in the wetland.
“We are ready to move. We are still waiting for the time when God will perform wonders,” Gasarasi said of the day when he will move to his new home, fully built for him by the district because he is too poor to afford his own house.
His neighbour, Mukazitoni, a single mother of six, agrees that they are ready to shift to Rusheshe and leave their old home behind because theirs is a dangerous dwelling at the moment. “This time the rain will wash it away when it pours; so I better move,” she said with a shyly but clearly anxious smile.
Though the residents of Gashiha high risk zone have been mapped and prepared to relocate, members of some 7,605 households in the whole country are still living in high risk areas and worry that the rainy season will be catastrophic to them again. Central and local government officials as well as military and police officers have been working around the clock since September 2012 to relocate some 47,474 from disaster-prone areas to safer settlements.
According to Augustin Kampayana, head of the Rural Settlement Taskforce that he coordinates from the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC), 39,869 households or 84 per cent of those in need, have so far been evacuated from high risk areas to a safer environment.
To the remaining 7,605 households still in risky areas, Kampayana says they shouldn’t worry because they shall be relocated before rains come.
“For the vulnerable families, roofing for most of their houses will be completed by the end of September when the rain pours down. No one needs to be still living in high risk areas by then,” Kampayana said.
With hope that this time round, the government is determined to relocate every citizen out of high risk zones, especially swamps and steep plots on hills, Kampayana admits that the process to move people to safer settlements has been extremely challenging.
“It actually went slower than we expected. Initially we thought that it would be done faster but it didn’t because of both financial and technical challenges,” he said.
Faced with storms, landslides and floods that killed scores of people and damaged property in mountainous areas in southern, northern and western provinces, the government set up a special, “National Joint Technical Committee” to relocate vulnerable citizens.
Headquartered at the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC) under the Rural Settlement Taskforce that Kampayana heads, the committee was made up of members from various government institutions, the army, and the police.
The committee worked with local officials across the country to map households in prone areas, pooled funds from both Central Government and districts’ budgets to build new homes for the poor, and sensitized those who were well off to find new homes on their own.
It has so far succeeded in relocating 84 per cent of all the households found in high risk zones by a September 2012 government assessment.
Government reports show that challenges to the process include limited budget to build new homes for poor families, lack of land in community settlements (imidugudu), lack of farming land for compensation to poor families living in risky areas, and a rigid mindset among some families who don’t want to move to new settlements.
But with the increase of both awareness and support campaigns across the country, Kampayana says, there is hope that the remaining households will have moved out of risky environments by the end of next month.
“Districts and their partners need to raise awareness campaigns and support. Household members need to first understand why they have to move and then be supported to do so where it is necessary,” he said.
In Rusheshe, where officials in Kicukiro District say that Gasarasi and his neighbours will be moved before the end of this month, construction is ongoing for some 32 houses which are designed to host four families each.
The new homes are famously known as “Four-In-One” given how each of the four joints of one of the buildings has about two bedrooms, a sitting room, a bathroom, and an outside kitchen and balcony.
Gasarasi and his neighbours have visited the area several times and are already referring to it as their new home and “a great town”.
Claudine Cyimana, a single mother who is raising four children, said she was eager to move to Rusheshe “as soon as possible” because she is worried for her kids’ safety in Gashiha.
When it rains, Cyimana said, children play in the sewage that flows to Gashiha wetland.
“We don’t know when, we don’t know the date, but we are ready to go as soon as they (officials) tell us to move,” she said, explaining that she would have to start a new life in Rusheshe because she doesn’t have a choice.
“It’s just too dangerous to live here,” she said, looking at her dilapidated house that is circled by sewage.