Rwanda's wetlands to be cleared of development

Thursday July 13 2017

A 2015 report put wetlands among the country’s

A 2015 report put wetlands among the country’s most threatened ecosystems in need of protection. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NATION 

By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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The government is to clear areas designated as wetlands of all activities and development amid growing encroachment and degradation concerns.

Ministry of Natural Resources (MINIRENA) has issued districts with a two-week notice to identify all affected properties, halt their operations and devise a plan to have them relocated urgently.

The order comes on the back of President Paul Kagame’s June 24 warning to both the developers on wetlands and public officials who gave them user permits that they would be dealt with.

Speaking about the notice, Minister Vincent Biruta said no structure will be spared as they enforce the provisions of the environment protection law enacted in 2005.

“The concerned activities should have moved earlier enough because the law was clear; instead we still see more encroachments. This is why this exercise requires urgency,” he said.

According to the ministry’s notice to districts, buildings, livestock kraals, markets, parking for vehicles, car wash businesses and playgrounds are among the facilities that need to be cleared from wetlands.

MINIRENA underlines that this is regardless of whether the facilities were set up before the law, or got authorisation prior to setting up. However, Mr Biruta said those in the latter category will get compensated prior to eviction.

Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) figures indicate that the country has over 850 wetlands with mapped geographic limits. They are classified under those whose exploitation is subjected to certain conditions, and those under total protection.

However, a 2015 State of Environment and Outlook report put wetlands among the country’s most threatened ecosystems in need of protection.

MINIRENA argues compliance with the wetland conservation provision remains an issue and the rampant floods are an example of the effects resulting from the growing encroachment because degraded wetlands lose ability to regulate the water flow.

Such concerns informed the government decision to relocate industries from the former Gikondo industrial zone, a valley designated as a wetland, but plans to restore it to its ecological status have been derailed by budget constraints as government is yet to meet expropriation cost for light industries and more than 30 garages and warehouses.

As a similar exercise extends to the rest of the country’s wetlands, district authorities told Rwanda Today the directive could not be implemented urgently because approved 2017/18 budgets did not factor in the costs.

Minister Biruta said it was not yet clear what could be the cost implications of the exercise.