In September 2018 toxic waste contaminated water in the Northern Province, killing fish in Mugara and Mukungwa rivers as well as ponds owned by farmers. The New Times’ Emmanuel Ntirenganya interviewed the Deputy Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Faustin Munyazikwiye, on the safety of the country’s water bodies and what the Authority is doing to enforce industrial policy on waste management.
What actually contaminated the water and what was the source of the contamination?
The incident of September 2018 was pollution of industrial nature.
Fortunately, it was not permanent and analysis commissioned by REMA indicated that after some days, the river was pollution free and marine life recovered in the fish ponds.
REMA has already done the administrative handling of the case and relevant judicial authorities engaged a court.
What is being or has been done to make the water safe for aquatic life, including fish?
As said earlier REMA commissioned a laboratory analysis to determine the extent and implications of the pollution and it was observed that the pollution was not permanent.
However, for safety, REMA issued technical recommendations to Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and ponds owners to properly manage the ponds and restart the fish farming activities. These recommendations are being implemented.
Following the contamination cases in Akagera River [by a leather factory], and Musanze waters, REMA promised to investigate sources of pollution in water bodies and wetlands. What were the outcomes of this exercise?
The observed cases of contamination are not permanent and in most cases are due to the carelessness of some operators.
How many cases of contamination by toxic wastes has REMA recorded over a given period of time, and what is the trend like?
Except the cases mentioned above and some other sporadic cases concerning mainly releases into wetlands or open pits, there are not many cases involving rivers and lakes.
Current water quality monitoring indicates that the main pollutants are those caused by erosion and siltation. Pollution loads from industries are not high. We must, however, remain alert to deal with any pollution that occurs.
What hazards or risks do such cases pose to human life and the environment?
The risks are diverse considering that water flows and when contaminated it can be easily spread to areas beyond the origin of pollution.
There is also a risk on the biodiversity in the water bodies as observed on the fish in Mukungwa River and species such as frogs.
Knowing also that in some areas where people don’t have access to tap water, they use water fetched from rivers and lakes and when polluted the water can easily affect their lives.
Why are factories not complying with the waste disposal provisions in the law on the environment?
We cannot generalise and say that factories do not comply, because the observed cases are isolated.
But where it is observed, we can say that it is mainly due to two main reasons: Factory owners who don’t want to invest in the necessary equipment and facilities for the sage management of pollutants.
And limited skills of some factory operators and staff. In some factories the management of waste or pollutants is left to people with no technical skills to understand and properly manage these products.
How does REMA regulate the disposal of the hazardous and toxic waste from such places as hospitals, health centres and clinics, as well as industries to ensure they do not harm lives, environment and what are measures in place to ensure that water or aquatic life is safe, free from toxic wastes?
Biomedical waste is managed separately and all health facilities have special instructions on how to manage biomedical wastes.
Appropriate facilities (incinerators) exist across the country where such wastes are disposed of.
Regarding the industries, potential hazardous and toxic wastes to be generated are identified at the Environmental Impact Assessment or Environmental Audit stage and appropriate management measures are proposed.
The regular monitoring by REMA of the industries looks at how these measures are implemented.
REMA and its partners also conduct inspections where improper management of wastes is suspected or reported, whereby corrective measures are given and when necessary even sanctions applied.