The year 2018 is gone, but, some people are still reeling from the disasters that hit various parts of the country during the year.
Disasters, mainly floods and landslides as well as lightning strikes, killed 234 people from January to October 2018 and injured 268 others, according figures from the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management.
Some 15, 264 houses were destroyed, 9,412 hectares of crops damaged while 797 deaths of livestock were recorded.
An assessment conducted in 15 districts, which were the most affected, indicates that, in monetary value, the country lost Rwf204 billion due to disasters in 2018.
In 2017, disasters damaged 5,057 houses, destroyed 5,111 hectares of crops and killed 589 livestock, among other properties.
In May 2018, after realising that disasters had ravaged people’s properties and caused deaths, members of the parliamentary standing committee on national budget and patrimony called for a special disaster relief fund.
Apollinaire Gahiza, the president of rice farmers’ federation (FUCORIRWA), said that floods severely affected 3,000 hectares of paddy rice in three districts of Bugesera, Gisagara and Rusizi.
“About 80 per cent of rice produce on 3,000 hectare plantations were lost to floods,” Gahiza said.
He pointed out that farmers lost the produce, raising concerns of potential food insecurity.
In addition, he said, farmers were still struggling to pay off bank loans.
Other damages include destruction of feeder roads that help farmers access their farms and transport their produce to markets. Water dams for crop irrigation in Bugesera District were also affected.
He said that the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources compensated the affected farmers with fertilisers.
“Farmers need effective strategies to control erosion in mountains surrounding marshlands because you realise that the erosion results in rice plantation flooding,” he said, adding that there is poor water management for torrents on canals along roads.
A flooded road in Kigali. Courtesy.
Dr Aimé Tsinda, an environment impact assessment expert and Senior Lecturer of Environmental Management and Urban Planning at the University of Rwanda, told The New Times that zero risk or hazard or disaster does not exist, but that people can mitigate, reduce vulnerability and adapt [to disasters] by creating resilient infrastructure and empowering resilient communities.
The Government, he said, is doing a lot in reducing vulnerability by relocating households living in high risk zones.
However, he observed, as societies evolve with the current and emerging issue of climate change and climate variability, a shift of paradigm is needed.
First, he said, all policies of all sectors (example agriculture, infrastructure/transport, energy, among others) should mainstream climate change element in theory and practice.
They should complement each other rather than conflict each other, he added.
Third, the issue of frequency, intensity and duration of rainfall (IDF) as it is the case today should be carefully taken into consideration in the current national development framework
Fourth, concerted effort and collaboration between different institutions working in the area of disasters, environment and addressing climate change need to be improved, with the focus on empowering local entities and local communities to effectively manage risks.
“Roads and bridges, are often not properly designed taking into account extreme weather events,
Sometimes roads are constructed without taking into account what we call contour lines [curves that join points of equal elevation]. This destabilises ecosystems which causes disasters,” he said.
For bridges, often they have been designed without considering the IDF curve, meaning intensity, duration and frequency of rainfall over the last several years, let say 40 years to see the variability.
About 44,000 households in disaster high risk zones were identified by the Rwanda Housing Authority and are set to be relocated to safer settlements.
Disaster prevention is better than post-disaster response, experts at United Nations say, stating that, one dollar used in disaster prevention and mitigation saves around seven dollars that would be used in response and recovery.