[SPONSORED] Managing water resources for increased productivity and conservation

From west to East Rwanda is divided into two major drainage basins: The Congo Basin to the west which covers 33 per cent and handles 10 % of all national waters and the Nile Basin to the east covering 67 per cent and delivering 90 per cent of the national waters
Paddy irrigation will remain the big water resources consumer
Paddy irrigation will remain the big water resources consumer

Background of water resources endowments in Rwanda

From west to East Rwanda is divided into two major drainage basins: The Congo Basin to the west which covers 33 per cent and handles 10 % of all national waters and the Nile Basin to the east covering 67 per cent and delivering 90 per cent of the national waters


Our country is endowed with a dense hydrological network comprising of numerous small rivers, streams and wetlands that drain into lakes and other water reservoirs. The water resources availability per capita per year in Rwanda is estimated at 670 m3 (National Water Resources Master Plan, 2015) which is less than the minimum threshold of 1,000 m3/capita as per the widely used Water Stress Index.


The country receives average annual precipitation of 1200mm and the rainfall ranges from as low as 800mm in Eastern Province to about 2000mm in high altitude of north and west.


Surface water bodies in Rwanda occupy a total of 135,000 Ha or about 8% of the country’s surface area. These include 101 lakes (1,495 km2), 861 rivers totaling 6,462 Km and a network of disconnected wetlands. At least 3 of the largest lakes are shared - Lake Kivu (shared with DRC), Lake Cyohoha south and Lake Rweru (shared with Burundi). The in-land lakes are sustained by inflows from the dense network of rivers, streams and wetlands. Rwanda counts a total of about 860 wetlands covering a total area of 278 536 ha, corresponding to 10.6 per cent of the total country surface.

Ground water resources in Rwanda are estimated to discharge about 66 m3/second and about 22,000 sources have been recognized. Extensive borehole drilling and shallow well construction have been done countrywide and at least 757 boreholes and wells have been recorded across country. Although groundwater is deemed safer than surface water, increasing pollution from agro-inputs (through leaching and erosion), and declining ability of ecosystems to naturally purify water, raise quality concerns while this water source accounts for 86% of safe drinking water supply for rural areas that depend on boreholes.

Management of water resources for development

The pressure on water resources primarily results from utilising the natural resources to meet basic needs as well as social-economic development. Three key sector, agriculture, domestic and industries are the big water consumers.


Managing water resources for agriculture

Currently, it is estimated that about 70% of the country’s annual freshwater use is consumed by agriculture sector and is expected to grow up to about 80% of total water demand by 2020. Connecting this to the government of Rwanda drive of increasing irrigation areas from 18,000 Ha in 2010 up to 100,000 Ha in 2017 for a total of 589,000Ha irrigable land, it appears that agriculture sector will continue to be the big user of water resources. The estimates show that to irrigate 100,000 Ha will require water inflows of about 286,000 cubic meters and this implies that any increase in irrigated agriculture will also increase the pressure on water resources.

However, Rwanda’s current water utilization for agriculture is less than 2% of available fresh water resources and increasing the irrigated area is a positive development as it transforms resources into economic productivity and improved livelihoods. But, even if the overall pressure on renewable water is not currently an issue for most river catchments in the country, there is a considerable risk that it will become a problem in numerous catchments over the coming twenty to thirty years for a wide range of plausible growth projections. Although physical water scarcity is not a problem at present, policymakers are well aware of the fact that it will probably become one shortly. Therefore, this requires Integrated water management to adopt innovative approaches to manage the water resources equitably and sustainably (NCA, 2017)

Paddy irrigation will remain the big water resources consumer

Water for domestic use

In the last two decades, the Government of Rwanda has distinguished itself in achieving water and sanitation targets. Access to improved drinking water has improved from 44% in 2005 up to 85% in 2015 while access to sanitation increased from 38% in 2005 up to 83.8% in 2015. Disaggregated into urban and rural sectors, statistics show that access to improved drinking water is fixed at 90 % in urban areas and 83.7 in rural areas by 2015. Projections show also that the current water demand in the City of Kigali is estimated at 120,000 m3 per day while the production capacity is estimated at 90,000 m3 per day.


Given that EDPRS 2 as well as the 7-year Government aspirations set to achieve 100% access to water and sanitation by 2017 which implies 600, 000 new connections per year, if this is combined with increasing livestock water needs related to Girinka programme, it looks that more water resource for domestic use will be drawn from natural environment and a combined effort is need to render water sources protected and more safe to consumption.

Effort to meet access to drinking water will have drawn more water resources

Water for industries

During the last five years, the Rwanda industry sector has grown remarkably and is projected to continue to grow in the next ten years, given the country’s emphasis on value addition to local production. In the Rwanda’s fastest growing industry-coffee industry, at least 30 m3 is required to produce one tone of fully washed coffee. Similarly, other industrial users such as bottled water and fruit processors, abattoirs, mineral processing, leather tanning and textiles will need more water to operate adequately. On the other hand, available resources will be affected by industrial production due to pollution since many of Rwanda’s industries do not have efficient waste treatment facilities in place and that the resulting poorly treated effluent will ends up in rivers, lakes and marchlands.

Therefore, a management approach that acts on reducing both water consumption and harmful environmental impacts while increasing profitable growth is need for perspective of sustainable growth. Waste water treatment shall be among the key priorities for most of industries and this is line with this year Theme that is focusing on raising awareness on water and waste water .

Managing water and catchment protection, conservation and preservation

Rwanda’s natural water resource is under increasing pressure due population growth, urbanization and the country’s aspiration for development and this in addition to a serious degradation of water resources due to human activities (unsustainable agriculture and mining, deforestation) which makes our surface water resources highly silted and this becoming a serious constraint for some socio-economic development initiatives mainly through hydropower development and access to domestic water supply.

In order to ensure a sustainable water resources management a National Water Resources Management Master Plan was developed and approved in 2015 under which the country was sub-divided into 9 level one catchments and appropriate specific management measures for each catchment are being elaborated and these including protection, conservation, safeguarding and rational use of water resources.

Various institutions have been put in place at both central and decentralized levels for a proper management of water resources notably the National water consultative commission which is a high level policy organ with the mandate to guide any plan or program related to water resources management and development and assisted by a technical Inter-ministerial committee.

At decentralized level, water management committees are in place at each District and recently Task Forces bringing together the Districts sharing one catchment have been introduced.

In order the reverse the current water resources degradation trends and ensure an integrated water resources management approach as adopted by the National policy for water resources management and its implementation strategic plan, various programs and projects are being implemented in various catchments country wide and these include the Water for Growth Program funded by the Kingdom of Netherlands and implemented by the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority with its main interventions in Upper Nyabarongo, Sebeya, Nyabugogo and Muvumba. Tthe Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project(LVEMPII) under REMA intervening in Upper and Lower Nyabarongo catchments, the Climate Adaptation Project being implemented in Nyabihu and Musanze Districts and other afforestation projects under the Water and Forestry Authority.

Matching demand and supply

In order to ensure a sustainable and rational water use, a Ministerial Order Nº002/16.01 of 24/05/2013 determining the procedure for declaration, authorization and concession for the utilizations of water was put in place and this requires that any abstraction of water resources for any activity like irrigation, hydropower, fish farming, mining other than domestic activities, has to have a permit to use water. The concerned water uses that are subject to water use permits include hydropower plants, irrigation schemes of above 1 ha, water treatment plants, industries abstracting water directly from surface water or underground, mineral washing and fish farming in lakes and ponds.

In the same context, water allocations plans using appropriate modeling tools such WEAP

models are being developed for most of the catchments starting with the most water scarce mainly Muvumba and Akagera catchments.

To be able to monitor the fluctuation of water resources, advanced automated water monitoring stations have been installed on various rivers and lakes and are regularly sending water levels data to a central database that allows proper water allocation.

The place for rainwater harvesting in the National water management system

Rain water harvesting (RWH) is used as an alternative source of water which helps to meet ever increasing and conflicting water demands for human needs, socioeconomic development as well as environmental protection. Depending on the location and the availability of alternative water resources, RWH becomes the cheapest option locally available. RWH techniques are used as exclusive or as complementary supply source for economic activities in the form of hill side irrigation, cattle watering and for industrial processes.

Local communities contributing to the on-going rehabilitation of Upper Nyabarongo catchment upstream of the Nyabarongo I dam.

According to EICV4, 2013/2014 the proportion of households using rainwater as the main drinking water source is 0.2% for both urban and rural households against 2% for urban and 0.4% for rural households in EICV3, 2010/2011.The highest rate is 0.6% for the Western Province and the lowest is 0% for Kigali City and the Southern Province.

On the other side, rainwater harvesting is one of the mechanisms to control floods in flood prone areas by the fact that these rainwater harvesting systems being those at household level or the in-situ rainwater harvesting systems like ponds and dams reduce the volume of direct surface run off after rainfall. It is even in this context that the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority is piloting a project since 2013 under the funding of FONERWA with the main goal being to support people to access RWH tanks through a loan and subsidy scheme in some Districts that are the most vulnerable to floods namely Nyabihu, Rubavu, Musanze, Gasabo, Kicukiro and Nyarugenge.

However, following to the prolonged droughts that affected the Eastern Province last year and taking into account that RWH can be a tool to cope with drought; the project has been now extended to some Districts of the Eastern province namely Kayonza, Gatsibo and Nyagatare.

Key partners in water resources management

Water resources is every body business, water is needed by all sectors, by all peoples, by all organisms, by the ecosystem. The challenge is to ensure water is a concern for all sectors, from all levels, and especially the local community. While we are developing, we need to ensure sustainable management of water resources for now and for the upcoming years . Efforts are being done to ensure the Private sector, civil society and local community are sensitized more on their role visa vis water resources , through maximizing opportunities that exist in the sector. Efforts are also carried out to increase collaboration with Research and academics institutions

A modernised hydrometric station on Ntaruka to monitor the fluctuation of water level

Among the key partners in water resources management, there is “Water for Growth Rwanda”, a four-year Integrated Water Resources Management Programme, a joint Rwanda-Netherlands initiative aiming to improve the effective management of water resources in Rwanda. The programme is led by the Government of Rwanda and supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN). Day-to-day implementation of the programme is tasked to a Support Unit (ISU) comprised of an international project team led by Euroconsult Mott MacDonald, partning with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and SHER). The ISU works in close collaboration with the Integrated Water Resources Management Department (IWRM Dept.) of Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority (RWFA).

WaterAid is also supporting efforts to take clean water to people in different parts of Rwanda. Maurice Kwizera, WaterAid Rwanda Country Director, says efforts should be intensified to enable water for all. He says, “2 million people in Rwanda are still living without access to clean water. On World Water Day, we call upon our government and others around the world to keep their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, and ensure everyone is able to realise their right to clean water by 2030.”

Major achievements in Water resources management

In terms of governance:

  • A National Water Resources Management Policy was adopted by Cabinet in 2012.
  • A National Water Resources Master Plan was adopted by Cabinet in 2015.
  • A high level National Water Consultative Commission and its supporting Interministerial Committee were put in place and are operational;
  • District hydrographic committees established in all districts
  • A Water use permitting System was established and is operational
  • Rwanda has ratified the Nile Basin Cooperation Framework Agreement and initiatated the framework for joint management of Lake Kivu and Rusizi Basin (ABAKIR)
  • Revision of the water law that is about to be completed including discussions on Water fees for raw water
  • Launching of Capacity building and institutional strengthening program in Water sector in close partnership with Netherlands Kingdom which is operating in four demonstrations catchments (20 districts) Through the Water for Growth Program.
  • Launching of basket Fund for investments that are in line with Integrated Water Resources management in close partnership with Netherlands Kingdom through the Water for Growth Rwanda Program.Process of water account has started to enable government institutions come up with reliable , good data in terms of water availability, water use, water productivity and hence their contribution to the national GDP.

In terms of water resources protection and conservation:

  • More than 2200 ha of degraded watersheds rehabilitated over the past five years;
  • More than 6, 600 people were supported to access RWH systems through a loan and subsidy scheme
  • Integrated Catchments plans for Muvumba, Sebeya, Nyabugogo and upper Nyabarongo catchments. Through those demonstration catchments, the programme will create a mechanism for practical learning and approaches with the objective to raise the capacity for conducting water management in accordance with the principles and good practices of IWRM for sustainable use of water resources by districts and all involved partners.
  • Various lakes have been restored including the Lake Karago which was heavily affected by siltation and water loss
  • Protection of various buffers zones for Lakes , rivers throughout the country
  • Complete removal of water hyacinth on some lakes that were completely affected

In terms of water storage and floods control

  • A feasibility study and detailed design for the biggest dam in Rwanda , a multi-purpose dam on Muvumba river with a storage capacity of 35 Million cubic meters have been completed with a potential area for irrigation of 10.000ha and more than 120,000 peoples to be served with clean water.
  • An integrated plan for flood mitigation for Nyabugogo area has been elaborated, and is in discussion for implementation with Kigali City
  • A study on volcano flood management in Northern part of the country has been completed and will be implemented jointly with Local districts and RTDA
  • With support of various watershed projects, gabions and check dams have been constructed in lava region,
  • A total volume of 36,779.5 m3 water storage capacity was reached through the RWH loan and subsidy scheme and the construction of water tanks on social and public buildings as well as grouped settlements totalized a volume of 3,050 m3.
  • A rehabilitation plan for Upper Nyabarongo Catchment has been finalized and indicating how to address issues of recurrent siltation that is affecting Nyabarongo river


The water resources of Rwanda still faces some challenges

  1. Pressure from other sectors especially mining, agriculture, infrastructures, and forestry: this continue to impact negatively on water quality and quantity of our rivers and lakes
  2. Water pollution due to human activities
  3. Inadequate enforcement of water law and ministerial orders especially at decentralized level and slow implementation of relevant policies and strategies specifically the Green growth strategy
  4. Lack of research and reliable data on water issues to inform decision making
  5. Climate changes impact reflected in drought and recurrent flash floods
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