There is a need for more investments in rehabilitating and conserving the wetlands that straddle Rwanda and Burundi located in the Nile River basin, according to environmental economists.
The need was reiterated along the 6th Nile Basin Development Forum going on from March 9 to April 29 under the theme: "Rethinking regional investments in the Nile River Basin” with focus on water, food security, energy, environment and climate change.
The wetlands ‘straddling the two countries are known as "Rweru -Bugesera Transboundary Wetlands Complex.”
A wetland complex consists of two or more individual wetlands with overlapping riparian management areas meaning that the wetlands depend on each other.
Herman Musahara, Associate Professor in the School of Economics College of Business and Economics at the University of Rwanda carried out a study on the trans-boundary wetlands complex which involves Lake Rweru, Lake Cyohoha and lake geographical zone.
The two lakes with linked wetlands straddle the border between Burundi and Rwanda respectively in the districts of Kirundo and Bugesera.
He found that the total economic value of ecosystem services of the wetlands is worth $124 million.
He said such economic value should be calculated in national accounts as Rwanda seeks to include natural resources in GDP calculation.
The measure to integrate natural capital in economic reporting is known as ‘Natural Capital Accounting’ whose framework dubbed "the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting—Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA)” was recently adopted by the UN Statistical Commission.
Musahara added that the study also estimated that at the least the current levels of degradation would cost up to $27.6 million which is about 1.6 percent of GDP of the two countries (Rwanda and Burundi).
"The economic assessment of the wetlands ecosystem services and biodiversity aimed at investigating beneficiaries of economic benefits from the wetland, current value of the biodiversity and ecosystem services, the economic impact of wetland degradation and loss as well as determining the value added or costs of investing in conservation and wise use,” he said.
He explained that the wetlands complex faces challenges including falling water levels in Cyohoha Lake, unsustainable fishing in Rweru River, unsustainable use of marshlands, water hyacinth, soil erosion, overhunting, disappearance of plant species among others which need more efforts to be controlled.
"There are threats such as agriculture, pollution, peat mining, sand clay mining, invasive species, bush fire, infrastructure development and others,” he said.
He explained that something should be deliberately done to ensure that the degradation that is taking place stops and ensure wise use of the resources.
"Areas of intervention include wise use of lakes, marshes and river, protection and conservation, promotion of green infrastructure, trans-boundary laws and regulation and enforce policies and strategies to govern wetlands,” he said adding that the wetlands have tourism opportunities such as bird watching.
Rwanda’s efforts for Rweru, Cyohoha wetlands
Musahara lauded Rwanda’s efforts in saving the wetlands citing an example of dealing with water hyacinth and degradation.
Water hyacinth infestation increases siltation of rivers and dams and affects the quality of drinking water also results in massive decline in freshwater population both fauna and native flora, as well as drop of water levels.
"Water hyacinth is not regarded as good news to the Nile River but countries have been looking at how they can be weeded and used for economic purposes where women cooperatives use them for handicrafts. There are also some trials so they can be used as fertilizers,” he said.
Government has since relocated people from the Rweru wetland as part efforts to protect the marshland from further degradation.
Rehabilitating Rweru wetland was initiated in 2013.
The Lake along the wetland was also saved from water hyacinth.
Members of four farmers’ cooperatives in the area also trained in integrated pest management techniques under the framework of Lake Victoria Environment Management Project Phase 2 (LVEMP2).
The government has also been rehabilitating Lake Cyohoha and wetland, saving it from drying up due to degradation and water hyacinth that pose threats to marine ecosystems.
Currently women cooperatives in Bugesera district use water hyacinth to make handcrafts such as handbags, sandals, trays, straw hats and others.
Protecting source of Nile River
Lake Rweru and wetland touching Rwanda and Burundi is considered as the most distant start point of the Nile River.
It is a reservoir that feeds water into Akagera that flows into Lake Victoria and then later into Nile River, Musahara explained while emphasizing the need to increase conservation efforts in the Nile River basin.
The waters of the AKagera are thus provided by two major tributaries, the Nyabarongo of Rwanda, which feeds Lake Rweru, and the Ruvubu of Burundi.
Also to be protected is Akanyaru River which rises in the western highlands of Rwanda and Burundi as the main tributary of the Nyabarongo River.
Rwanda and Burundi are members of The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an intergovernmental partnership that brings together 10 countries linked to River Nile and these are; Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
In February this year while launching the state of Nile River Basin report 2020 On Nile Day celebrations, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda’s Minister of Environment who is also the current chairperson of Nile Council of Ministers raised that water resources in Nile River Basin need to be equitably and sustainably used adding that it requires joint investments for better impact.
Approximately 10.6 per-cent of the Rwandan surface area is covered with wetlands.
The biggest wetlands are floodplain wetlands of low altitude associated with major lakes such as Lake Cyohoha, Rweru, Mugesera, Nasho, and rivers, such as Nyabarongo, Akanyaru, Mukungwa, Base, Nyabugogo, among others.