Govt to replenish fish ponds, impose fines on water polluters

The Government has outlined plans which include applying ‘polluter pays principle’ as well as replenishment of River Mugara, River Mukungwa and three ponds owned by farmers in Musanze District with fresh fish following massive death of fish caused by water contamination last Friday.

The PPP is an environmental policy measure, which requires that the costs of pollution be borne by those who cause it.

Coletha Ruhamya, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), told Business Times yesterday that protection of water bodies against contamination is not only for the benefit of fish life but rather the entire ecosystem and people who use the water.

“We are still carrying out tests in laboratory to establish the source and level of pollution.  The samples were taken from various places up to the confluence of Mukungwa and River Nyabarongo. It was to trace if the contamination has gone further,” Ruhamya said.

“After that, we’ll identify the source of the contamination and legal measures that can be taken in compliance with ‘polluter pays principle,” she observed.

A team of experts from various institutions including Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), Rwanda Environment management Authority (REMA), Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), Local Government, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and Rwanda National Police (RNP) has been sent up to investigate what contaminated the waters and how.

Water safety and fish restocking

The Deputy Director General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer at RAB, Dr. Solange Uwituze, told Business Times that they are still waiting for a comprehensive report that on the extent of contamination and damage.

The report will also establish the extent of the fish loss and the impact it will have on the economy. However, she said, since the rivers are natural government does not have records of their fish production, especially given that there was no organised fishing in those rivers.

Rwanda produces an estimated 25,500 tonnes of fish per year and imports some 15,000 tonnes to cater for the supply shortfall. The country targets to produce 112,000 tonnes of fish per year by 2024.

It’s not yet sure clear whether Friday’s loss will derail these efforts.

“The fish that are in the rivers existed there naturally, we did not breed them there,” she said, pointing out that there has there was plan to breed fish in rivers because it is difficult to manage since their water flows. 

She added that government is planning to sanitise the water and restock the affected waters with fish, an activity which will be based on the finding from the investigation for effective implementation.

COOPIBEFAMU, a cooperative of fish farmers in Muko Sector of Musanze, whose three tilapia fish ponds were ravaged by the incidence, was has been earning about Rwf800, 000 every three months through the sale of some hundreds of kilogrammes of fish.

A kilogramme of fish costs about Rwf2, 500, according to Edouard Bendantunguka, the accountant of the cooperative and one of its members.

“The water polluter should be liable for damages,” he said. We need an enabling environment whereby our fish farming will thrive instead of falling victims of toxic pollutants,” he appealed.

Dr. Uwituze said “we cannot introduce fish in water which is not yet cleaned. What is essential is to know that even if compensation is made [to the farmers who lost their fish], water is safe to the  fish before we re-introduce them there.”

Taking sustainable measures, and mainly looking for ways to ensure close monitoring of factories which have connections to water bodies so that they do not discharge pollutants into them, Ruhamya pointed out.

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