FEATURED: World Water Day: Call for ownership in protecting water resources by restoring water catchments

Hydropower and electricity production plants are also affected during erosion in Sebeya River

The Water Week was organised by, among others, the Ministry of Environment, Water for Growth Rwanda, an integrated water resources management (IWRM) programme funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands  and implemented by the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority (RWFA) with support from Mott MacDonald (lead partner), SNV and SHER. The World Bank (through FONERWA) and Hinga Weze that is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future programme, were main financial sponsors of the Water Week this year. World Water Day was marked on Friday March 22, 2019, with a call to everyone to play a role in protecting water resources mainly by controlling soil erosion by planting and maintaining trees in water catchments. Celebrated under the theme ‘Leaving no one behind’, it reflects Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) which aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030.

Rwandans from all backgrounds, especially women and youth, were urged to play a role in improving integrated water resources management to manage the effects of climate change, and to minimise pollution of surface water and groundwater. The event took place in Nyange sector, Ngororero district, by launching the rehabilitation of Secoko sub-catchment on 10,000 hectares, with funding from the IWRM Investment Fund (IIF) under Water for Growth Rwanda.

Under Payment for Ecosystem Services, farmers will get incentives for conserving water catchments. Michel Nkurunziza 

The Ministry of Environment, through RWFA, signed an agreement with Rwanda Mining Board (RMB) to promote sustainable mining in Secoko sub-catchment. Secoko-sub-catchment was found to be the greatest contributor to the siltation of Nyabarongo River, the main source of domestic water supply to the City of Kigali and also supplying water to four hydropower plants, the main one being the Nyabarongo I hydropower plant with a capacity of 28 MW. “Secoko River is exposed to a lot of soil erosion due to human activities, including agriculture and mining. It flows into Nyabarongo River and affects Nyabarongo hydropower plant,” said Prime Ngabonziza, RWFA Director General.

Getting incentives

The rehabilitation of this sub- catchment will be done using two approaches of rehabilitation with the newest one being Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), a community-based approach where citizens will carry out various activities to protect the catchment and get paid for those services. This seeks to minimise another approach where service providers facilitate work with and by communities but the follow up to sustain them becomes a challenge.

Prime Ngabonziza, the DG of Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority speaking about payment for Ecosystem Services. Michel Nkurunziza 

Over Rwf16 billion was earmarked for activities to protect water catchments in four catchments over the next four years, according to the officials. Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), also known as Payments for Environmental Services (or benefits), are incentives offered to farmers or landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide some sort of ecological service.

Ngabonziza said that RWFA will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with districts to oversee the implementation of the activities under PES“Under PES, farmers will form groups that will follow up and give value to the activities carried out and people will get their incentives through their Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) accounts,” said Ngabonziza.

Poor Mining activites on surround hills awash sediments into Secoko river which go on into  Nyabarongo. Michel Nkurunziza 

Such activities include planting trees like bamboos along the rivers, agro-forestry trees in their farms and fruit trees around homes, all aimed at restoring land affected by erosion. Officials said that those activities will benefit citizens both in getting the mentioned incentives and in fighting malnutrition.

Upper Nyabarongo catchment is among other catchments such as Nyabugogo, Sebeya and Muvumba catchments that have been given priority under Water for Growth Rwanda. “We do not have to work with so many private contractors but with farmers and landowners who have to carry out most of the activities and get paid. Second, we are urging them to sustain those activities such as planted trees including agro-forestry in the water catchment,” Ngabonziza noted.

In another catchment, in a bid to minimize water shortages for the community, a Rwf100 billion project is expected to build a multipurpose dam with a capacity to reserve 35 million cubic meters of water at Muvumba River to increase the supply of piped water in Eastern province. The dam will also reduce power shortages and bolster food output by providing water for irrigation on over 7,000 hectares, officials said.

Integrated Water Resources Management Conference

To mark World Water Day, an Integrated Water Resources Management Conference was also held in Kigali last week to share inspiring practices whereby the National Water Account prepared by the World Bank funded Natural Capital Accounting programme was introduced.

Minister of environment, Vincent  Biruta and Netherlands’ Ambassador, Mrs Frédérique de Man tour some activities during the IWRM conference in Kigali 

Speaking during the conference, Vincent Biruta, the Minister of Environment said: “We must remain focused on ensuring we reach everyone with water access. Doing so requires us to protect water resources, control pollution, and mitigate flooding. It is also important that people from all walks of life, especially young people and women, are part of these efforts, not simply beneficiaries,”

He said that those living in rural areas are still under-served and therefore, “To truly leave no one behind, we need to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene services are available at low cost and high quality, no matter where people live.”

Gihira water treatment plant officer, Theonetse Nshimyumuremyi. Sometimes operations are halted due to erosion. Michel Nkurunziza

Biruta said that the water resource management sector is being reorganised through the creation of the Water Resources Board. “The board will oversee integrated planning of water resources, catchments restoration and erosion control, flood management and water storage development. It will also ensure water use efficiency and quality management,” he said, calling for the best practice approaches for integrated water resources management and for management of related land and natural resources.

Planting trees along the rivers

In order to protect the rivers from erosion and encroachment, more trees and bamboos, will also be planted. According to Augustin Mihigo, Bamboo Production and Non-Timber Forest Products Specialist at Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority, bamboo species to be planted are Dendrocalamus giganteus, Dendrocalamus barbatus, Dendrocalamus strictus and Dendrocalamus latiflorus, more useful alternatives to the yellow bamboo that the government is phasing out.

Community members who plant and protect water catchment will receive incentives. Michel Nkurunziza

The new bamboo species are used both for environmental protection and packaging and hygiene paper products while they can also serve as food. They can also be made into charcoal and the charcoal converted into briquettes for fuel. They also include Thyrsostachys siamensis and Bambusa textilis which are small in size and are very good for furniture. In the 2019/2020 fiscal year, the bamboos will be planted on 300 hectares especially along the rivers and lakes.

World Water Day, the International Day of Forests, and World Meteorological Day 2019 were held in the same week in recognition of “the interconnections and interdependencies between our water and forest resources and our climate.” With the theme of ‘Forest and Education’, the 2019 International Day of Forests was held on March 21 by planting bamboos on Rebero hill in Kigali while World Meteorological Day took place  on March 23 under the theme ‘The Sun, the Earth and the Weather’ to increase awareness of the role of weather and climate information in our daily lives. Other types of trees will continue to be planted, especially in Eastern province according to the officials. Last year, trees were planted on 4,800 hectares of which 2,700ha are in Eastern province, which is prone to desertification.

Effects of lack of water catchments protection

Recurrent erosion in Sebeya River and Nyabarongo affects Hydropower plants. According to Maurice Serugendo, the manager of Gisenyi hydropower plant in Rubavu district, they take one hour every day to remove sediments from the plant machinery and another day per month for additional maintenance, which triggers losses. “If farmers embrace good agricultural practices and all means that prevent erosion from throwing sediments and plastic wastes into Sebeya River, we cannot incur such losses. When it is flooded, it damages properties such as crops, houses, bridges and enters the market places and affects businesses, he said.

According to Gihira water treatment plant officer, Theonetse Nshimyumuremyi, sometimes operations are halted due to erosion. The plant treats 8,000 cubic meters of water every day and supplies water to the community, Rubavu town, Bralirwa Brewery Plant, the sectors of Rubavu and Rugerero. “During the rainy season sediments

eroded in the river stop our activities for five hours every day which affects water supply,” he said calling for more combined efforts to avert the trend.

Officials partnering with community to plant trees on Secoko river sub-catchment that is source of siltation in Nyabarongo river. Michel Nkurunziza

This incidence, he said, also affects Bralirwa Brewery Plant and other businesses in general. “We lose over Rwf10 million due to the sediments that affect the machinery and stop our operations. This means if we are used to spending Rwf10 million in buying water treatment chemicals, we double and spend Rw20 million due to such erosion while the sales decrease,’ he said.

Phillipe Kwitonda, in charge of water resources management in Western province, said that in order to prevent erosion that affects the operations of the factories that use water from Sebeya River, many approaches are being scaled up. “We are planting more trees to increase forests in the area and building ponds to retain water and slow down the speed of floods. So far we have restored over 968 ha of land in the catchment, which degradation used to cause flooding and erosion on both sides of Rubavu and Rutsiro districts,” he said.

Local leaders upbeat

Godefroid Ndayambaje, Ngororero district Mayor, welcomed the project on Secoko catchment saying activities to be carried out there will protect the environment, provide employment for citizens as well as fight malnutrition in the area. “Our district is one of hilly areas which are prone to disasters such as landslides and road destructions since the soil is fragile. Activities around here will protect lives of people as well as the environment. This will also help in the fight against malnutrition as more fruit trees will be planted. Ngororero residents will ensure the implementation and the sustainability of the project and that its target is achieved,” he said.

Professional mining key to environmental protection

Francis Gatare, CEO for Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, challenged miners around Secoko and other catchments to bear in mind that protecting the environment is key and to practice professional mining that does not undermine the environment. “There is still unprofessional mining where some people still pollute rivers and it affects water resources. Illegal mining undermines protection of water resources. Much as minerals can generate income for miners, it should be done in a way that protects the environment. It is therefore important to work with local leaders and citizens in general. There is a need to protect the environment and through this project (PES), there is money that will be channeled to miners to rehabilitate where they mined. The soil that is washed away is owned by citizens and this should be avoided,” he added.

Public Private Partnership is key

According to Rob Nieuwenhuis of Mott MacDonald, Water Management Specialist and Deputy Team leader at Water for Growth Rwanda, there is a need for the private sector to venture into financing integrated water resources management. “We have discussed, in the conference, the role of the private sector in advancing water efficiency development while investing in what benefits them and also benefits the environment and the community,” he said.

He mentioned the need for co-financing, where the private sector was encouraged to invest in their own business, with co-investment from the IIF if these investments also help to reduce environmental pollution and help to restore the catchment. They can also voluntarily start to pay for ecosystem services. “Everyone who needs clean water from the river can help to pay for sustainable land husbandry,” Nieuwenhuis said.

Beneficiaries speak out

“Protecting the environment is very important and I am committed to play my part. Now that we are encouraged to plant more trees, especially agroforestry and fruit trees, I am ready to plant more trees in my farm,” said Dative Mujawamungu, a mother of three in Nyange sector, Ngororero district.

The Water Week was organised by, among others, the Ministry of Environment, Netherlands-funded Water for Growth Rwanda led by Mott MacDonald, the World Bank through the NCA programme and FONERWA, and Hinga Weze that is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future programme.