The Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) has launched a campaign to combat the effects of climate change through the protection of lakeshores where human activities have to comply with the required distance.
Lakes shores are part of protected natural ecosystems, according to the law N°48/2018 of 13/08/2018 on Environment about prohibited acts in wetlands and protected areas and conditions to respect while implementing any specific activity in or near lakes, rivers, water streams, and wetlands.
Article 42 of the Law specifies acts prohibited in wetlands, including building in water sources, streams, rivers, and lakes and the buffer zone in a distance of ten meters away from streams and rivers and fifty meters away from lake banks.
The campaign organized by REMA in collaboration with Police Marine, targets lakes that include Mugesera, Sake, Nasho, Mpanga, Muhazi and Birira lakeshores in Eastern Province, Kivu in Western Province and Burera and Ruhondo in Northern Province were targeted to identify the current situation of lakeshores and illegal activities conducted there.
The inspections conducted in Bugesera and Rwamagana districts on the lakes of Gashanga and Mugesera respectively; Rutsiro and Rubavu district on Lake Kivu and Burera in the North, on the lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, showed that lakes shores are being damaged by human activities including farming and hotel buildings.
The Director General of the Rwanda National Environmental Authority (REMA), Juliet Kabera, said the inspection was aimed at urging the population to stop such activities as they could not only pollute water but also cause damage from floods.
“It’s an inspection aimed at educating those who haven’t yet complied with the law. They first have to understand the reason to respect the buffer zone and then leave it. We believe local authorities can support those who may depend on such lands so that we do not save some to harm many more” she said.
Normally lakeshores should be planted trees and grass that hold the soil in order to prevent erosion that harms organisms living in water including fish that breed on the shores.
In Bugesera District on Lake Gashanga, where farmers do not remember to leave even a small distance near water, they have started to experience the effects as they sometimes suffer losses due to flooding that damages their crops, according to Uwingeneye Donatha, from Juru Sector.
She said: “In the last four years, we have not been able to harvest well in this wetland because flooding often harms our crops. We were told that we have to leave 50 meters from the water, so I decided to stop my farming activities here to relocate to the hillside. ”
Bugesera district has the highest number of lakes in the country, with at least 9 lakes and three rivers (Nyabarongo, Akanyaru and Akagera) that pass through it.
Bugesera District Mayor, Richard Mutabazi says that in order to protect the environment, they are urging people to avoid entering the lakes shores as they are part of protected areas. Even during the issuance of land certificates they are reminded such areas do not belong to them.
“Our people are aware that they haven’t to conduct any activity near the lakes as a way of protecting the ecosystem. We have agreed with those who did not comply with it that once they harvest, they will not do it again” Mayor Mutabazi said.
Communities engagement in the conservation of the lakes
The shores of Lake Kivu are dominated by hotels activities on the side of Rubavu district.
Some people dare repair their buildings while the law stipulates that apart from the new construction, renovation of existing buildings of before 2005 is illegal.
In Nyamwumba Sector of Rubavu District, residents have been found to be in a critical condition as their houses are very close to the lake despite the owners claim to have been living there for a long time.
Twagiramariya Yvonne, a resident of Kiraga Cell, said: “I have been married for the last 16 years; this is our land because we have been living in it for a long time except that the local administration has told us that no new house is allowed to be built. Furthermore, we are not allowed to renovate our houses once they are old or damaged. We do not have any documents for it as well. ”
However, they know that they have to play a role in conserving the lake, Twagiramariya says.
“I can’t wash my clothes in the lake or let anyone else do it. We know that such behavior can harm the organisms living there”, She said
The Mayor of Rutsiro District, Ayinkamiye Emerance, emphasized the role of the people in preventing the destruction of the lakes shores, saying that they should bear in mind the problem of erosion and landslides that often affects their region.
“We have sensitized the public but apparently some are ignoring it. In recent days we have put in place much effort to protect these areas. We have set up an inspection team on agriculture done in violation of the law; some have been fined but our main goal is to ensure everyone knows the existing law and respect it”, she said.
Global changes in climate are affecting Rwanda in many complex ways. These include climate related hazards such as floods, landslides and droughts as well as windstorms and severe rainstorms that have struck Rwanda in recent years with devastating effects on the population. These hazards have affected all districts and individual households across the nation – affecting the livelihoods and food security of rural and urban populations as well as the agricultural, energy, health, water, natural resource and institutional systems on which the population depends.
Rwanda’s vulnerability assessment report (2018) indicates that for the for the water sector, Rwanda faces a critical situation of water stress, which includes a low volume of artificially stored water, a high precipitation run-off rate, rough estimates only of ground water recharge rates, high demands for water in a context of low per capita water availability, and increasing need for substantial amounts of water for irrigation, industry, growing cities among other requirements.
The Ministerial Order N° 007/16.01 of 15/07/2010 determines the length of land on shores of lakes and rivers transferred to public property. Under this regulation, 50 meters on the lakeshores are public property prohibited for any other activities than their protection, unless specially authorized. Furthermore, article 49 of the Environment Law enlightens the penalties and fines included in the violation of required distances.
By Kanamugire Emmanuel