By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU
As part of the Africa Smart Cities Investment Summit (ASCIS2023) which took place in Kigali, on Thursday, September 7, 2023, the IUCN Rwanda convened experts to discuss nature-based solutions in African cities during an interactive session titled: “From Promises to Impact: Putting Climate Policies and Plans into Practice in African Cities.”
According to experts, Africa is experiencing a rapid and significant growth of its cities, with a large influx of people migrating from rural to urban areas in search of employment and improved living conditions.
Unfortunately, many of these migrants are classified as low-income or impoverished individuals who are forced to live in slums, making them highly vulnerable to climate-related risks such as flooding, landslides, and heatwaves.
Minister of State of the Environment Dr. Claudine Uwera during the Africa Smart Cities Investment Summit
“While the rapid urbanization of African cities is threatened by climate impacts, it is crucial that we drive sustainable economic development and growth, offering opportunities for jobs creation, education, businesses, and innovation,” stated the Minister of State of the Environment Dr. Claudine Uwera during the Africa Smart Cities Investment Summit.
In her keynote address Dr. Uwera emphasized the importance of putting climate policies and plans into practice in African cities. With Africa expected to double its number of major cities by 2050, the continent’s contribution to global emissions is set to increase significantly. The Minister stressed the need for bold action to ensure that African cities do not accelerate climate change, but instead contribute to halting it.
Dr. Claudine Uwera during the Africa Smart Cities Investment Summit“We must be part of the solution and neither the victims nor the problem,” stated the Minister. She highlighted the importance of smart urban planning and ambitious climate action plans in achieving the common goal of staying within the1.5 degrees’ Celsius target of the Paris agreement. These plans will focus on practical adaptation and mitigation actions in sectors such as water, spatial planning, energy, industry, building, transport, and waste management.
Her address also focused on Rwanda’s commitment to climate action and the need for tangible actions to create a sustainable future.
The Minister highlighted Rwanda’s involvement in key partnerships, including the Climate Action Planning Programme (CAP) funded by the Germany Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and embedded in the C40, a global network of mayors united in action against the climate crisis.
This partnership showcases Rwanda’s dedication to contributing to climate ambition by improving policies and increasing investments in renewable energies, green buildings, and e-mobility.
Speaking on Nature-based solutions, the Minister said “One notable example of Rwanda’s commitment to nature-based solutions is the creation of Nyandungu Ecopark.”
She said that “This park serves as a way to restore degraded ecosystems while establishing a green space in an urban environment.”
“Additionally, the Green City Kigali initiative, led by the Government of Rwanda is another example of Nature-based Solution in the City of Kigali fostering green urbanisation and creating a sustainable and inclusive neighborhood.” She added.
“If we are to attain prosperity, greening our cities is a must for a sustainable future hence our dignified living! It is time to evolve from good policies to tangible actions, making a difference to our people. “She said.
Also Ms. Kaori Yasuda, the IUCN Rwanda Country Representative, emphasized the need for cities and regions to build resilience in response to climate change and other societal challenges.
Yasuda highlighted the commitment of IUCN to collaborate with cities and national governments, such as districts in Rwanda, specifically Rubavu, to create a resilient and sustainable future. The organization aims to achieve this by deploying nature-based solutions and adopting a community participatory approach.
During her intervention, Ms. Kaori explained that IUCN focuses on integrating nature into urban and regional policies, ensuring that nature plays a vital role in sustainable cities.
“By scaling up the implementation of nature-based solutions, cities and urbanized regions can enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change, improve health conditions, contribute to restoration efforts, and promote economic development.” She said.
IUCN developed the first ever global standard for nature-based solutions
Ms. Yasuda mentioned that IUCN has developed the first ever global standard for nature-based solutions to support the design, implementation, and evaluation of NbS projects.
To demonstrate how nature-based solutions work on the ground in Rwanda, Yasuda referred to a recent flooding situation that occurred in Rubavu district of the western province in May 2020.
She said that “The flooding was caused by water coming from degraded lands in hilly and mountainous landscapes upstream, resulting in loss of lives.”
“In response to this recurring problem, IUCN implemented nature-based solutions to benefit the local communities.” She said.
Ms. Yasuda discussed the successful implementation of integrated water resource management projects in the Sebeya catchment area, covering four districts including Rubavu in the western province of Rwanda.
Sebeya Project as a Nature-based Solution
Funded by the Dutch Embassy in Rwanda from May 2019 to June2023, the project aimed to enhance catchment management and increase community and landscape resilience against the impacts of climate change.
“Led by the Rwanda Water Resources Board with technical assistance from IUCN, the initiative emphasized the transformation of developing ecosystems into climate and resilient landscapes while providing livelihood opportunities through forest and landscape restoration.” She explained,
“The Sebeya project showcases how nature-based solutions can transform developing ecosystems into climate and resilient landscapes with livelihood opportunities. It is a clear example of the benefits that can be seen in both the health of people and nature.” She said.
“The key to the success of this project lies in the participatory development of village land-based plans by the local community. Instead of imposing solutions from above, we empowered the local communities through a bottom-up approach. This ensured that the project was tailored to their needs and priorities.” She added.
Ms. Kaori also noted that “By combining both green and grey infrastructure, the Sebeya project effectively addresses societal challenges such as disastrous reductions and delivers on sustainable development goals like water and food security.”
“One example of the grey infrastructure implemented in this project is the lateral dike, which helps to control and redirect floodwaters. On the other hand, the flood retention area acts as a green infrastructure, absorbing excess water and reducing peak floods before they reach areas with human settlements and economic activities.”
What Next after Recent flooding in the Western Rwanda
In May 2023, the western part of Rwanda experienced a devastating natural disaster in the form of a massive flood. Many lives were lost, highlighting the urgent need for nature-based solutions to mitigate the impact of such disasters. Ms. Kaori Yasuda, emphasized the importance of scaling up these solutions to protect the local communities.
Yasuda stated, “Since this Sebeya project covered only30% of the entire Sebeya catchment, we think that more investment is needed in nature-based solutions as an integrated approach to the western part of Rwanda. With this said, we are planning to scale up the Sebeya project to other parts of Sebeya catchment and other catchments and basins in East Africa.” This ambitious plan aims to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
IUCN continues to support various Nbs in Rwanda
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is actively supporting various nature-based solutions in Rwanda, including urban and roadside tree planting, expanding urban green spaces, and promoting urban agriculture.
One of the initiatives that IUCN is currently involved in is the development of guidelines for the implementation of roadside and urban forestry in partnership with the Rwanda Forestry Authority and Ministry of Environment. This project aims to benefit biodiversity, habitat restoration, and ecosystem services in Rwanda. According to Yasuda, “The tree planting along roadsides and in urban areas has many benefits, such as air purification and dust collection, control of flooding and erosion, and providing habitats for important pollinators.”
Another key initiative being implemented is the promotion and management of urban green spaces to enhance the quality of urban life and promote sustainability.
Yasuda explains, “Urban green spaces play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of urban life and promoting sustainability. In this regard, IUCN is working with all four national parks in Rwanda to help Rwanda Development Board and other partners effectively manage and govern these protected areas using the conservation tool called IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas.” The Government of Rwanda has shown support for these efforts by backing the development of the Nyandungu Eco Park.
Ms. Kaori said that “This aligns with the goal of the IUCN Green List, which aims to promote effective conservation practices in urban settings and recognize the value of green spaces in enhancing our environment.
Forests are key to smart cities
Furthermore, Prof. Dr. Jean Ndwamungu from the University of Rwanda supports the idea of using nature-based solutions to make Rwandan cities smarter, more sustainable, and more resilient.
He emphasizes the importance of urban forestry in this process, as it can enhance the beauty of cities, reduce stormwater impact, and increase biodiversity by creating corridors for wildlife.
Dr Ndwamungu has participated in developing guidelines for urban tree planting, which prioritize the use of indigenous species that are well adapted to local conditions and offer multiple benefits.
He also advocates for investing in urban forestry and planting trees in different sites, including gardens, to improve soil fertility and increase forest products.
Additionally, he highlights the importance of restoring wetlands and increasing green spaces not only in Kigali but also in secondary cities across Rwanda.