Rwanda loses soil every second: The loss incurred by ineffective conservation of River Nyabarongo

On 17 August 2022 at 11:30

Every year, Rwanda loses nearly 1 million tons of soil washed away by water resulting from erosion and other human activities posing threat to the environment.

Research shows that River Nyabarongo washes away over 400 tons of soil from Rwanda every year to other countries along its water courses.

In areas with large-scale mining projects like Muhanga, at least 51 kilograms of soil are washed away every second as per figures from Rwanda Water Resources Board (RWB).

The degradation of River Nyabarongo which is the longest in Rwanda, and its banks incurs a huge loss to the country considering its relevance to the agriculture, biodiversity, national economy through electricity generated from dams built over the river and water supplied to Kigali City among others.

Speaking to IGIHE, the Director General of RWB, Dr. Emmanuel Rukundo has revealed that the country suffers big losses over the degradation of River Nyabarongo which flows into Nile River.

Nyabarongo water is always dark-brown due to erosion and illegal mining activities.

Dr. Rukundo Emmanuel has said that this degradation affects the country and citizens as well.

“Erosion firstly washes away the arable and fertile land. This reduces agricultural yields for farmers, hence causing adverse effects in daily lives where expected outcomes to the country and the individual is low,” he said.

Farmers account for 60% of Rwandan population where a large segment of farmers are only assured of good yields in wetlands and rivers’ edges.

Nyabarongo is home to diverse animal species including crocodiles and fishes among others.

Dr. Rukundo has revealed that the polluted water flowing through the river and erosion pose threat to these species where some of them can be subjected to the risk of extinction.

“Polluted water puts life on a standstill. We use water to generate electricity or for daily consumption. For instance, Nzove Plant uses water from River Nyabarongo which undergoes treatment processes before being released into communities for daily use. When water is contaminated, the cost of treatment goes high,” he noted.

Considering the complex process of highly contaminated water, Nzove Plant has sought alternatives to use underground water in case River Nyabarongo is very muddy during the rainy season.

“When water containing much mud gathers in dams built at a hydropower plant, it reduces the output,” said Dr. Rukundo.

Several conservation efforts for River Nyabarongo were implemented over the past years but did not lead to a durable solution.

Experts expressed concerns that the issue lies in scattering efforts among relevant partners or lack of strong policy.

Dr. Rukundo has told IGIHE that new polices devised to prevent erosion across the country are expected to start bearing fruits this year.

“80% of the land designated for heightened erosion prevention are fit for terracing or other erosion control techniques. All these activities are within citizens’ capacities,” he said.

“There is an ongoing sensitization that started in April being conducted in collaboration with local leaders reminding citizens to prevent erosion in own land. The average size for a land owned by a citizen is nearly a half hectare. We believe it is possible to control erosion on that land,” added Dr. Rukundo.

Since 2012, the Government of Rwanda has allocated almost Rwf3.5 billion for erosion control starting with the most affected districts.

Dr. Rukundo has disclosed that there is a plan to build terraces on 24,948 hectares of land. They will be an addition to more 21,000 hectares terraced over the past four years.

He explained that planting crop-friendly trees, and planting trees along river banks are among other measures being devised to control soil erosion.

Plans are also underway to sensitize companies carrying out mining activities to recycle used water before releasing them into rivers.

Dr. Rukundo has further stressed the need for concerted efforts between different stakeholders considering the complex work it requires for efficient conservation of River Nyabarongo.

Other pointed out pollutants include garbage discharged from households and factories which put at risks the lives of consumers.

Research carried out by the Democratic Green Party in October 2021 indicated that some bird species in the nature along Nyabarongo watercourse disappeared owing to contamination of the river’s water.

Nyabarongo is the longest river in Rwanda.