Poverty and environmental degradation are linked in a vicious circle, that forces poor people to engage in practices that have an adverse impact on the environment as they seek basic provisions to improve their livelihood. A degraded environment produces less, so people become more vulnerable.
“It is possible to eradicate poverty in Rwanda. However, in order to succeed we need to safeguard the natural resources and the environment which a majority of Rwandans depend upon for their livelihood”, says Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, Director General of Rwanda Invironmental Management authority (REMA).
REMA, is the implementing body, of the Rwanda Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI).
The PEI aims to integrate sustainable management of environment and natural resources into national planning processes; more specifically, through the implementation, of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, (EDPRS).
The majority of the Rwandan population lives in rural areas (at least 60%), with their livelihood systems depending on natural resources. According to ’Guidelines for Mainstreaming Environment in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy’, a recent document published by the PEI – subsistence agriculture provides food security and employment to about 90 percent of the approximately 10 million population.
An example of this link, given in the ’Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2008-2012’, is the use of biomass such as firewood.
Over 94 percent of the rural households in Rwanda today, depend on firewood as their primary source of energy for both domestic and industrial use.
But since the 1960s, more than 63 percent of forests have been lost in Rwanda, meaning that wood as a fuel becomes scarcer.
This deforestation results both in soil erosion, which causes further declining levels of well being among Rwandans and that women and children spend longer hours collecting firewood.
To curb this vicious circle the Rwanda PEI, supports the Government in its effort to raise awareness about environmental issues to reduce poverty and improve the lives of poor and vulnerable groups through incorporating these issues and concerns into national development processes.
So far the programme that runs up to December 2009 has taken important steps to break the circle. Environmental issues are, for example, now ensured to be integrated in Rwanda’s EDPRS, both as a sector in its self and as a cross-sectoral issue.
Mr. Cyrille Turatsinze, Technical Officer at PEI, explains that this is a major step forward and that it is a very important foundation for Rwanda to operate a successful transition towards long-term human and economic development.
”Environmental issues must be integrated in all sectors when plans are developed if we are to respond to challenges posed by current environmental degradation”, he says.
He stresses that these environmental considerations, are more about identifying opportunities from good environmental management other than protecting natural resources such as forests.
Another major achievement for the Rwanda PEI programme, is that the process of incorporating the environment into the EDPRS has involved a lot of people from government bodies at national as well as district and local levels which ensures a broad ownership.
”Safeguarding the environment is everybody’s business”, says Dr. Rose Mukankomeje.
”Every single Rwandan needs to be involved one way or another if we are to achieve the objective of having a safe, clean and green environment with cash”.