A rising population — with its demand for economic opportunities — is putting pressure on Rwanda’s ecosystem even as exhausted mines and quarries beg for rehabilitation.
These concerns were raised on June 5, as Rwanda joined the rest of the world to observe the World Environment Day. Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) officials said conservation efforts were under the twin pressures of a growing economy that increasingly demands exploitation of natural resources and a booming population.
“The country’s population is booming and this is reflected in the need for minerals and construction materials. We need to exploit them in a sustainable way,” said Eng Collette Ruhamya, Director General of REMA.
As the value of Rwanda’s principal mineral exports slid to Rwf127.8 billion ($152 million) in 2016, the country responded by raising the production target for 2017 to Rwf336.4 billion ($400 million), implying a higher pace of exploitation at the 490 active licensed mining sites.
REMA says the rehabilitation of exhausted mines and quarries is bogged down by disputes over ownership and responsibility following the weeding out of illegal miners.
“Current concession holders are reluctant to assume responsibility for the actions of the previous operators,” said Eng. Ruhamya. This is worsened by illegal miners who abandon shafts after exploitation and artisanal miners who lack the resources to rehabilitate sites after extraction.
Eng Ruhamya says this kind of environmental degradation increases the incidence of flooding and landslides which affect soil fertility and agricultural productivity.
Gakenke district, one of the mountainous parts in the Nile Crest, has more than 32 abandoned but unrehabilitated mines and quarries.
This has made the area prone to landslides and other environmental hazards that have occasionally led to loss of life and property.
In the last rain season, Gakenke reported 34 lives lost with hundreds displaced as heavy rains battered the Western and Northern parts of the country.
“The district is struggling to find resources to relocate families from the high-risk zone as well as from risks that might come from mines and quarries,” said Deogratias Nzamwita, the mayor of Gakenke district.
Five projects worth Rwf50.6 billion ($60.1 million) under the management of REMA that started in 2013 and are scheduled to the end in 2020, focus on the restoration of forests and swamps. Other projects in 20 out of 30 districts, address ecosystem protection and restoration of wetland and rivers for climate change resilience.
Although local authorities collect an environmental levy from quarry sites, the proceeds are not ploughed back for restoration of exhausted sites.
Under the district non-statutory revenue, each truck ferrying construction stones pays Rfw5,000 for every trip.
The government through the Poverty-Environment Initiative working on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the mining sector to ensure that environmental and possibly other sustainability aspects are considered effectively in policy, planning and programming.