Rubavu residents call for sustainable solution to River Sebeya flooding problem

Residents put up temporary barriers against floods. / Michel Nkurunziza.

Families whose property and crops were destroyed when River Sebeya burst its banks recently have appealed for more support to rebuild their lives.

River Sebeya in Rubavu District, Western Province, burst its banks two weeks ago following heavy rains in the area, destroying public and private property, including homes and crops for 1,233 households, as well as bridges and two power plants. Households across the district lost property worth millions.

Speaking during the World Water Day celebrations last Thursday, residents said some of the victims have no shelter while others don’t have any food and other essential needs.

The river flooded early this month, claiming the lives of seven people in the process. Residents in the area say it was the first time River Sebeya burst its banks at such a scale, adding that the devastation caused was so huge that relief support that came from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs did not have a big impact.

Josiane Icyimanimpaye, a mother of two and resident of Kanama sector, said the family is now staying with a neighbour after their house was destroyed by the flooding. She said properties and homes of almost all the 20 households in her village were completely destroyed. “Only four houses were slightly damaged,” she told The New Times last week.

Besides relief support, the residents want government to put in place sustainable mechanisms to prevent or reduce the impact of such disasters in the future.

“The food items we had in the house was swept away by the raging floods which also destroyed our crops and furniture,” Icyimanimpaye said, adding that she doesn’t have any means to rebuild her house.

“I have not yet got any support... We need support so that we can relocate to a safer place or build barriers to guard ourselves against future floods,” she said.

There used to be many houses round and the church, but all collapsed last year.

Viateur Ntirivamunda, another resident, said the floods ravaged three gardens of beans and maize. “We had planted  beans and maize recently, but all were washed away by the floods.

“The new terraces we had constructed were of no use. We are worried that hunger could soon strike in coming days or weeks as all our crops were damaged,” Ntirivamunda lamented.

So, Government should intervene and save the situation since we have no other means of survival now, he added.

He said strong prevention measures are necessary to protect residents against such occurrences going forward.

What officials say

Gilbert Habyarimana, the Mayor of Rubavu District, told The New Times that 1,200 households lost all their properties and homes, while 33 other families only need shelter.

“We are calling on authorities, partners and all people of goodwill to support these families because the district cannot do it alone as a lot of money is required. Long-term solutions should also be devised as we try short-term interventions,” he said.

He added that 356 toilets were also damaged, exposing the area to health risks.

Habyarimana said the district has already started discussions with Rwanda Agriculture Board so it can provide seeds to the affected families before the planting season ends.

“A team of health workers is also on standby in case water-borne diseases outbreak given the stagnant waters,” he said.

Restoring affected power plants

Habyarimana added that temporary toilets were being constructed, while damaged water supply lines and taps were being rehabilitated “so that people do not use contaminated water”.

Stephen Igooma, the Rubavu District REG branch manager, said two small power plants, Gisenyi and Gihira, in Rugerero Sector are currently not functioning because sediments, stones and other foreign materials entered their sieving system and machines during the flooding. The two power plants produce a combined 8MW.

“We are not generating any electricity from the two plants presently. The area now lacks stable electricity supply as voltage drops because big energy users, such as Bralirwa and hotels, need a lot of power to operate,” he said.

Plan to protect catchment area

The REG official said that they are cleaning the plant, adding that the river water is also becoming clear again.

Government has devised a six-year plan to protect Sebeya River catchment area from flooding in case the river burst its banks, according to officials.

Prime Ngabonziza, the director-general of Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority, said the country is putting in place strong measures to build resilience to disasters caused by effects of climate change.

He, however, blamed the flooding on poor agricultural practices, deforestation and unsustainable mining methods, among others.

The River Sebeya catchment area is being rehabilitated under a €18 million project backed by the Netherlands embassy, which will be invested in the four demonstration catchment areas of Nyabarongo, Sebeya, Nyabugogo and Muvumba sector.



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