Sewage a disaster waiting to happen in Kigali city

Saturday February 20 2016

An open drain in a residential area in Muhima. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

An open drain in a residential area in Muhima. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Johnson Kanamugire

Kigali’s growing population faces serious health risks if the long-standing improper sewage disposal issues are not addressed urgently.

The city’s lack of appropriate sewage facility left homeowners, businesses and expanding structures to individually deal with their sewage with many seeking shortcuts to get rid of it.

As a result, raw sewage has for many years been discharged directly into open storm drains and ditches locally known as ruhurura, ending up in rivers and wetlands on a daily basis.

The situation is said to worsen in the rainy season, when sewage believed to be stockpiled in homes, garages, restaurants, prisons, hospitals and other businesses gets discharged alongside solid waste. This, environmental experts say, undermines the country’s environmental ecosystem while at the same time endangering public health.

“The situation as it is today is prone to causing diseases and to contaminate the soil and the water table in the long run,” said Dr Valentine Uwamariya, a university lecturer and chemist specialising in water supply and sanitation.

Dr Uwamariya added that, without urgency in putting up appropriate handling of raw sewage, dumping of untreated waste water constitutes huge risks for the expanding city as waste volumes generated continue to increase.

The discharge of raw sewage into the open space is particularly affecting the city’s densely inhabited suburbs the most, especially the hilly neighbourhoods of Muhima and Gitega in Nyarugenge Districts.

Residents are exposed to risks of stinking sewage discharged daily in open drainage canals that pass between residential houses and business premises all the way to the Nyabugogo wetland, the endpoint for most runoff and sewage from different parts of Kigali.

“Here, waste water is mainly discharged at night; you may also see a lot of it being released when it is raining,” said Fanny Mukatete, a mother of two who lives a few metres from the drainage canal in Gakinjiro. “At times, I can’t sit at home and eat because the smell is bad and unbearable.

“Sometimes we wake up to find heaps of rotten garbage stuck in the canal and we have to pay someone to remove them when we can’t wait for umuganda (monthly community clean-up day) to do it ourselves.”

The story of Muhima and Gitega resonates with that of the other old, densely inhabited city suburbs such as Rwampara, Kimisagara, Gikondo and Gatsata. When Rwanda Today visited the areas, only huge complexes and a few structures such as hotels and schools were found to be equipped with sewage disposal facilities, whereby human waste is collected in septic tanks that are emptied when full, at a cost.

However, residential houses, shops and other businesses that cannot afford septic tanks resort to pit latrines, which double as terminuses for all the sewage.

The capital, which had over 1.1 million people in 2012, is projected to hit the three million mark by 2020, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

The increase could push much higher the volume of waste generation, causing the need for more septic tanks and pit latrines, a practice likely to undermine the natural and human environment, according to the regulator Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (Rema).

“It is not viable at all having every compound with a septic tank,” said Dr Mukankomeje, the Rema director-general. “That way, we cannot afford to go towards a green-clean-smart city without a central sewage system in place.”

Although Kigali started a solid waste collection and dumping system, especially after the setting up of the Nduba dumpsite, the exercise is still problematic.

A 2013 Kigali State of Environment and Outlook Report revealed that only 25 per cent of solid waste generated in the city is disposed of in gazetted landfills with the rest ending up in bushes, rivers and open space in town.