Since 1994, Rwanda’s economy has been applauded in several aspects crosscutting from social, political to economic. Since the country has just commemorated the 37th World Environment Day last week, focus on this area of global concern is worth any due attention.
Considering the poor post colonial history Rwanda possesses, environmental protection and conservation can be regarded as being on track, just like it is said by international environmental bodies.
This changed in the aftermath of Genocide against the Tutsi when the country’s environment was seriously threatened. People depended much on forests for settlement and feeding animals.
Trees were also needed for house construction and firewood as energy. Worse still, there were no strong policies and programmes to protect and maintain the environmental resources.
Poor policies and urban planning led people to settle in fragile areas of the country. However since 2000, government has put a serious focus on the environment earmarking most of the fragile places such as national parks.
For example, the Virunga Park, home of gorillas was demarcated after its near depletion. There have also been a lot of efforts in tree planting, something that is encouraged even at umudugudu (village) level through umuganda (communal work).
The Gishwati forest, once depleted has also been reinstated owing to afforestation. According to Vincent Kagera, the State Minister in charge of Mining and Environment, the current forestry has grown by 50 percent since 1994.
“Over 400 tree spices have been planted along water resources countrywide. This is believed to have maintained the water levels.”
Marshlands are also under proper management, as government owned areas. According to Karega, a total of 822 of the 860 marshlands across the country can only be used for agricultural activities upon government approval.
“Only 38 wetlands are conserved but settlement is allowed 20 metres away from them.”
Agricultural activities are also geared towards environmental protection. Terracing has been emphasised to avoid soil erosion and fertility loss. According to information from the Ministry of Agriculture, Rwanda being a hilly country, about 70 percent of its land is terraced.
Much of the environmental protection achievement are attributed to the 2005 environment law that clearly stipulates protection of ecosystems, soil conservation, management of water resources among other environmental resources.
A new law against the use of ubushashi (plastic bags) was also endorsed in the National Gazette, limiting the manufacturing, usage, importation and sale of polythene bags in Rwanda.
This is plastic bags’ lethal impact on environment; they choke drainage channels, litter entire landscapes and have often lead to the death of domestic livestock and even wildlife after being thrown away indiscriminately.
Environmental protection was much on the agenda after the initiation of the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) in 2006. This non-sectoral institution under the Ministry of Natural Resources (MINIRENA) has the overall responsibility to manage the bio-physical environment throughout the country.
The government’s Environmental Management Support Project has been boosted after the African Development Fund (ADF) approved a grant amounting to USD1.4 million.
This grant that covers 91.7 percent of the entire cost of the project aims at drastically reducing the deforestation rate and start reforestation.
Government targets a 15 percent drop in deforestation and a 20 percent increase in the reforestation rate over five years.
Despite these developments, a lot is yet to be achieved in regard to environmental protection and conservation.
Karega said that the fight to conserve and protect the environment from global warming still faces a lot of challenges.
Artisan mining is said to be hurting the environment by dumping soil and sand into water to separate impurities and purities in search for treasures. They also clear forests before extraction starts.
There is also growing pressure for energy thereby turning to cutting of trees for firewood. Few households and institutions have embraced the use of biogas. It is estimated that about 350 households countrywide are using biogas.
However with the alternative sources of energy coming up such as solar and methane gas to fill the electricity grid, dependence on firewood is expected to fall.
The growing population in urban centres is said to be causing massive pressure on waste management. There are only two dumping sites for Kigali city residents.
However, government is considering attracting investors to extract wastes into usable products. The road has not been rosy but Rwanda is on track; striking a balance between development and environmental protection.
The author is an environmental student