Wetlands day: More efforts needed to protect swamps in urban areas

The current population growth rate average of Rwanda’s urban population is 4.5percent and far above the world’s average of 1.8 percent, according to global growth institute.

The current population growth rate average of Rwanda’s urban population is 4.5percent and far above the world’s average of 1.8 percent, according to global growth institute.

Urban population in Rwanda is projected to increase to 35% by 2024 in the City of Kigali and other six secondary cities developed as poles of growth and centres of non-agricultural economic activities, according to official figures

The designated secondary cities are Huye, Muhanga, Nyagatare, Rubavu, Musanze and Rusizi.

Speaking last Friday during the event to celebrate World Wetlands Day, officials raised a concern that this exponential growth of cities is in parallel with decline of wetlands and it calls for stringent measures by all actors to ensure the ecosystem is protected.

Globally, more than 64% of the wetlands have been lost since 1900, according to the officials.

In Rwanda for instance, 50% of the wetlands in the City of Kigali have lost their ecological character.

According to a survey conducted by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in July 2017, there are over 2,078 establishments around the city that encroached on wetlands and they consist of commercial buildings, public facilities and residential houses.

Coletha Ruhamya, Director General of REMA says that urban wetlands in Rwanda face a lot of pressure especially with pollution resulting from dumping soil, solid and wastewater and illegal infrastructures, illegal mining and illegal cutting of grass among others.

“As urbanisation increases along with large amounts of natural resources for survival, water consumption and waste management, among others, will exponentially increase and cause irreversible damage to the environment especially urban wetlands, ” said Ruhamya as the country joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Wetland Day on Friday

“Every body should adopt actions that help to conserve and restore urban wetlands to make our cities sustainable in the future. Well managed urban wetlands ensure communities are resilient to climate change and disaster risk,” Ruhamya added.

Fatina Mukarubibi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment stressed that city planners and managers have to ensure that the current cities deliver not only basic services such as accommodation, transport but also are safe, resilient and environmentally friendly.

“Government institutions, private sector and all stakeholders involved in urban management are urged to adopt policies and actions that make our cities sustainable, help conserve, restore and preserve urban wetlands,” she added

She also urged all citizens who still conduct illegal activities in wetlands to relocate in order to reduce water pollution and insure the sustainability of cities and environmental commitments enshrined in the National Strategy for Transformation (NST-1) targets and Vision 2050 aspirations while fulfilling international obligations.

According to Faustin Munyazikwiye, the Deputy Director General at REMA, of 2078 establishments in the wetlands, 205 have shifted from the area.

Dr. Elias Nyandwi, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Rwanda’s Centre for Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (CGIS) said that protecting wetlands was not a one-size-fits- all approach and there should be various ways actors should protect them.

“Wetlands are part of the ecosystem and play a bigger part in human development, Protecting wetlands especially in cities is a serious concern for Rwanda given the population growth, there are challenges to implement policies due to mindset and lack of capacity, people should understand the danger of polluting wetlands as the country is facing the impact of floods, heavy rainfalls among others,” he said

World Wetlands Day (WWD) is an annual event which is widely celebrated on February 2. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971 and Rwanda signed this convention in December 2003.