Rwanda: How Will Major Lakes, Rivers Be Saved From Persistent Encroachment? –

Conservation experts have proposed a ‘community participatory approach’ as a sustainable model that could end the rising encroachment of Rwanda’s major lakes and rivers buffer zones.
The experts’ views follow a probe by various researchers, Auditor general and inspectors that found that major water bodies continue to be encroached and polluted despite protection measures.
The environment law stipulates that buffer zones are 50 meters from the lakeshore and ten meters from the shores of big rivers and are considered as protected with no activities or structures permitted there.
The exception, according to the law, is for activities aiming at protecting the buffer zones as long as they are not destructive to the environment based on environmental impact assessment study.
However, the buffer zones of sampled Rivers namely Nyabarongo, Sebeya, Nyabugogo as well as Lakes Kivu and Muhazi are being encroached by human activities such as agriculture, mining activities and other infrastructure developments according to a probe carried out by Auditor-General in October 2020 and presented few months ago this year.
The audit also revealed areas where 50 metres of buffer zones on Lake Kivu and Muhazi, as well as ten metres of buffer zones on Nyabugogo, Nyabarongo and Sebeya rivers, are not even demarcated and protected.
The probe has also found that there are gaps in establishing long-term strategies for the protection of lakes and rivers.
Only two catchment plans for River Muvumba and Upper Nyabarongo and two for Lower Nyabarongo and Sebeya River have been established, leaving five catchments without long-term strategies.
Expert’s views
A conservation researcher, Prof Elias Bizuru who is also lecturer at University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology told The New Times that the persistence of water bodies’ encroachment is caused by lack of ‘participatory model ‘which should integrate the community in the buffer zones protection.
The approach, he said, could succeed considering that government inspectors are not enough to have an eye on every corner of the lakes and rivers to stop encroachment.
“There is a need for a participatory approach that should integrate the community so they feel ownership of conservation. Government should establish buffer zones and encourage the community so that they feel interested because they really see benefits,” he said.
This, he said, will motivate the local people to protect and maintain the zones arguing that, “Proposing a solution in which communities have no clear benefits, doesn’t become sustainable.”
The environmentalist said there is a need for ‘a study to know what the community needs in the buffer zones and then solve encroachment issue.’
“For instance people can plant fodder for their cattle and other livestock and then harvest them. This is motivation. They can benefit from water sources there. Others can be helped to get manure. They can do beekeeping,” he noted.
He explained that bamboos that have been planted along rivers and lakes are also not serving their purpose.
“For me, some of these bamboos are not a sustainable solution because they are exotic species meaning some are alien or nonnative and therefore not conserving biodiversity. The community around has also no clear benefits from the bamboos. Buffer zones have to really customize to the needs of the community around,” he noted.
The auditor general report also pointed out that bamboos planted on river banks are not harvested and they outgrow their location and fall into water.
This, the auditor says, they therefore do not serve their purpose to stabilize and protect buffer zones.
Encroachment effects
Prof Bizuru explained that the persistent encroaching triggers soil erosion, water contamination contributing to the degradation of lakes and rivers.
“Some lakes can dry out and disappear due to encroachment and erosion or siltation,” he said.
Other effects include loss of fertile soil due to erosion and downstream flooding.
With agricultural activities in the buffer zones, the runoff pesticides, fertilizers and other sources of contaminants pollute rivers and lakes, he noted.
“If fish consume polluted water, it can also harm human health,” he said.
Degradation could reduce fish production due to chemicals that pollute the lakes while threatening other species, he noted.
Lakes Kivu and Lake Muhazi and other water bodies accommodate different biodiversity species including fish that contribute to food security across the country.
The production of sardine from Lake Kivu itself varies between 300 tonnes to 500 tonnes per week.
What REMA says
REMA officials told The New Times through an email that different lakes and rivers were affected but Lake Muhazi, Lake Kivu, Lake Mugesera, Lake Burera, Lake Sake, Nyabarongo and Sebeya Rivers are likely to be more affected by encroachment.
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It said that in the past year, more than 100 major encroachers were fined.
Most of the encroaching activities, according to REMA, were linked to construction activities of bungalows, retaining walls, houses for generators, artificial gardens, concrete walkways, fences and agricultural activities, mining activities on lakeshores and riverbanks.
The encroachment is punished by Law N°48/2018 OF 13/08/2018.
“The dominant illegal activities were linked to the violation of the article 49 of that law which imposes the fine amount equal to Rwf500,000,” REMA says adding that others are urged to remove/demolish the encroaching activities and repair the damages.
Continuous awareness raising to the general public on the negative effects of encroachment continues according to REMA.
However, Remy Norbert Duhuze, The Water Monitoring and Quality Control Division Manager at Rwanda Water Resources Board (RWb) told this paper that inspections are not enough without involvement of local leaders and awareness raising.
“We have held a meeting with the local government specifically on this issue,” he said.
Read the original article on New Times.
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