RUBAVU — Temporary wattle and mud houses covered with plastic sheeting are the new homes of residents of Bigogwe-Nyabihu district, who were affected by floods late last year.
Food shortages among the residents in their new homes remind them of the loss they encountered due to the torrential rains. They say they had abundant food and supplies for market grown on Gishwati hills; but they have been reduced to beggars; waiting for aid from government and other aid workers.
Following the floods that hit the area on September 12, that killed 17 people and displaced hundreds, the Ministry of Water and Mines stopped residents from cultivating on the hills, allegedly to conserve the environment and prevent soil erosion.
The residents are yet to receive new cultivation land, but they are skeptical whether they will get equally productive plots of land to restore their status of great food producers.
“We were stopped from cultivating on the hills but we don’t expect to have land as fertile as Gishwati. We were good producers and suppliers of Irish potatoes to a large market including Kigali. It helped us generate income but we think it could be different in the new places due to the differences in land fertility,” Jean Claude Hategekimana a farmer told The New Times recently.
Gishwati hills are said to be fertile due to its soil formerly covered by a forest. The cut forest left decomposing leaves making the area suitable for agriculture.
Although the affected residents are yet to get new plots of land, the Minster of state for Water and Mines Prof. Bikoro Munyanganizi recently reiterated the directive stopping residents from carrying out any agricultural activities on the hills.
The minister attributed the floods to poor-managed agricultural activities that expose the hills to soil erosion.
In a dialogue with residents, the minister noted that the hills needed to be conserved to avoid a repeat of the devastation.
We must find a lasting solution to the environmental challenges in Gishwati, if not, he said, we shall continue facing tragedies like what happened in September last year.
“Gishwati hills are too elevated and the continuous agricultural activities in the area would lead to soil erosion and environmental degradation,” he explained.
However, he said a group of agricultural technicians was currently carrying out a study to find out suitable activities for the hills that are not a threat to the environment. He said that the same experts would help in reallocating residents who lived and cultivated on Gishwati hills to other areas.
Charles Ngirabatwari the district mayor urged the technicians to expedite their work to facilitate the reallocation of affected residents.
“We stopped residents from cultivating on the hills. That is why I call upon the technicians to be faster in their work to facilitate the reallocation of residents into new cultivatable areas,” he said.
Ever since the directive was implemented last September, food security was affected among the affected residents, the mayor acknowledged. He noted that it was the reason he asked the technicians to work faster.
Ngirabatwari appealed to the central government to support the district in providing more aid in terms of food to the affected families.
He said 390 plots have been secured where houses for the affected residents would be constructed.
The mayor further said the district had heeded the minister’s advice to conserve the environment by stepping up a campaign against poor land use.
As part of the campaign, he said, the district has planted 880 hectares of grass and 50 hectares of trees on the hills.