Poor drainage system in Gihembe Refugee Camp 'costing us lives'

People living in the environs of Gihembe Refugee Camp in Kageyo Sector, Gicumbi District have raised concerns over lack of drainage system within the camp that has led to persistent landslides, which has led to at least 10 deaths in the past two years.
A landslide site  where at least 10 people have separately been killed in two years. (Theogene Nsengimana)
A landslide site where at least 10 people have separately been killed in two years. (Theogene Nsengimana)

People living in the environs of Gihembe Refugee Camp in Kageyo Sector, Gicumbi District have raised concerns over lack of drainage system within the camp that has led to persistent landslides, which has led to at least 10 deaths in the past two years.

Olive Uwihoreye, a resident of Muyange Village in Gihembe Cell whose father-in-law perished from the landslide last month, said government and its partners need to urgently devise means of having a mechanism of harvesting water from the camp.

Alternatively, she says the camp should be moved to another place to ensure the safety of not only those living nearby but also for the thousands of Congolese refugees in the camp.

“My father-in-law was coming from Kageyo trading centre at around 6pm when he was taken away by landslide. The water from the camp should be contained, otherwise more lives will be lost,” said Uwihoreye.

Job Nganizi, who lives in Karihira Village that has been most affected by the landslides, said these have totally disorganised them, saying that if the camp cannot be relocated, then the people in his village should be evacuated to a safer zone.

“We cannot leave home during the rainy season; we have to stay home to ensure our children remain indoors or else they get washed away. Before the camp was set up in 1997, we had a well functioning road to go to Ruyaga and Kageyo trading centres but the road has been completely cut off by the landslides so we have to go through the camp,” he said.

Devising solutions

When contacted for a comment, Alexandre Mvuyekure, the Mayor for Gicumbi District, said they are aware of the problem and soon a sustainable solution will be devised.

“We have held discussions with different partners over the problem of the water from the camp that has been claiming lives. In fact last week we had a meeting with a technical team from MIDMAR (Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs), over this very issue,” said the mayor.

He said that a feasibility study on streamlining the drainage system in the camp has been completed “and I hope rehabilitation is starting soon.”

Philippe Habinshuti, the director of disaster response and recovery at MIDMAR, also said that it is a matter of days and the issue will be resolved.

“We are aware of the problem and I want to assure residents that the problem will be solved soon as a technical study for rehabilitation of the area has been conducted, and the activities will cost Rwf500 million,”  Habinshuti said.

The activities will be jointly funded by the ministry together with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The two-year project will include structural modifications including construction of drainage systems, terracing and planting of trees; and activities will commence at the end of this month, Habinshuti added.

Meanwhile, Martina Pomeroy, in charge of external relations at UNHCR Rwanda, said they have started some activities to address the root causes of landslides that have can led to emergence of gullies near the camp.

“A larger-scale response exercise is being undertaken with MIDIMAR. Measures undertaken by UNHCR include reforestation in areas surrounding the camp, planting thousands of trees to prevent soil erosion that can lead to landslides.”

Fixing the mess

UNHCR has also constructed drainage channels within the camp to ensure that water flows are controlled, adding that in other camps like Mugombwa in Gisagara District, UNHCR has engaged in terracing which will prevent the risk of landslides.

Located in Gicumbi District, Gihembe Refugee Camp was established in December 1997 to host thousands of refugess from DR Congo, who are survivors of Mudende massacres.

Mudende was a refugee camp in the Western Province of Rwanda hosting Congolese refugees who were attacked by militiamen who had infiltrated the country from DR Congo.

In August and December 1997, armed groups from DRC crossed the border and attacked the camp murdering hundreds of refugees there. Currently, 99 per cent of the over 14,000 refugees in the camp are survivors of Mudende massacres.

Rwanda is home to over 70,000 Congolese refugees hosted in four camps of Gihembe, Nyabiheke (Gatsibo District), Kiziba in Karongi District and Mugombwa in Gisagara District.

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