Over 40% of Rwanda’s wetlands ‘lost their pristine nature’

A new survey has found that integrity status of Rwanda’s wetlands and their biodiversity is at about 60 per cent meaning that over 40 per cent have lost their quality due to encroachment.

The survey, dubbed “Wetlands Biodiversity and Ecological Integrity Assessment”, was conducted by Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network).

 

The preliminary findings were presented during the celebration of World Wetland Day under the theme “Reversing wetlands biodiversity loss”.

 

It measured the overall wetland condition with an emphasis on the structure, composition, and function of wetlands ecosystem in reference to natural habitat in a period of one year as the research continues since it will take two years.

 

There are about 1,000 wetlands across the country.

The research assessed different wetlands mainly those in Kigali city, Akanyaru wetland, Rweru-Mugesera wetland, wetlands in Kirehe districts, Rugezi wetlands, wetlands in Rusizi district among many others.

The assessment found that at least eight bird species, three mammals, two fish species, one amphibian and two reptiles were endangered or threatened due to wetlands encroachment that led them to lose ecological integrity or quality.

Dr Sam Kanyamibwa, the Executive Director of ARCOS network said that the survey indicated that the major threats to wetlands biodiversity were agriculture expansion, pollution, peat mining, sand and clay mining, invasive/exotic species, bushfire, various infrastructure development and others.

“The level of pressure of threats to the wetlands biodiversity is at 65 per cent while the level of action to respond to the threats is only at 35 per cent. We call for urgent action to reverse the threatening trend; otherwise this can lead to worse flooding, food insecurity, water scarcity among others,” he said.

The Minister of Environment, Dr Jean D’arc Mujawamariya reiterated that 53 per cent of Rwanda’s wetlands has been converted into agriculture.

“Studies show that biodiversity is decreasing more than ever due to degradation. Indeed, Wetlands are being degraded three times faster than forest cover. Due to degradation biodiversity is being lost. For example, grey-crowned cranes have been extinguished (disappeared) from wetlands among other species,” she said.

Disasters are increasing due to heavy rains as a result of climate change and therefore protecting wetlands will help to adapt to such disasters by controlling floods and drought, facilitating water filtration and others. In addition, wetlands also serve as recreational and eco-tourism spaces, she noted.

The minister urged the relocation of illegal activities from wetlands and avoidance of dumping waste into wetlands.

Kigali city’s wetlands

Marshal Banamwana, a Biodiversity Management Specialist at the Ministry of Environment, said that 10.6 per cent of Rwanda’s wetlands are in Kigali city.

“The area of wetlands in Kigali city has decreased from 100 Square Kilometers to 77 square kilometres. We have now zoned the wetlands into rehabilitation zone, sustainable exploitation zone, conservation zone and recreational zone,” he said.

Survey findings by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) revealed that 78.9 per cent of 7,222 illegal activities that were in wetlands last year were residential, 9.44 per cent were commercial houses, 2.85 per cent were livestock activities while 3.18 per cent were both commercial and residential activities.

He added that there are the most polluted wetlands.

“Gikondo and Nyabarongo wetlands are the most polluted and others,” he said.

Wetlands recommended for rehabilitation are on 15 Square Kilometres which is 20 per cent, wetlands recommended for sustainable utilization make 29 per cent, wetlands for conservation make 38 per cent and the rest are recommended for recreation, Banamwana said.

Nadine Umutoni, the Vice-Mayor in Charge of Social-Economic Affairs in the City of Kigali said that so far the city has relocated 5,632 activities out of 6,364 that were in wetlands.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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