7 June 2012

Rwanda: Recollection of a Mudslide Survivor


Alexia Musazagore, 52, was suddenly woken up in the middle of a rainy night by sounds of screaming children. As she rushed out to find out the cause of the wailing, the earth beneath her began caving in as her small house shook viciously.

That is when she realised that her worst nightmare was coming true as a mudslide forcedly budged her downhill along with everyone else residing on the hill.

"We usually faced bad weather on this hill, but the neighbours would come to my rescue if my house was leaking and either patch it up or offer me shelter, and I would reciprocate if somebody needed my help," Musazagore narrated to The New Times.

"On that fateful night, everyone was for himself or herself because the landslide was too fast and terrible. No matter how much you screamed for help, nobody came to your rescue."

Although she managed to survive the ordeal along with her three children, she recounts that five children she knew so well perished in the tragedy.

Like Musazagore, thousands of people resided on the ill-fated hills located in Rubavu District in the Western Province. Although most of them were relocated to safer ground in the aftermath of the misfortune, some of them did not live long enough to get help.

When The New Times visited the hills, they looked nothing like they were two years ago; stony footpaths meander from the top to the bottom and its 62 hectare surface is covered with all species of trees including bamboo, filao, jacaranda among others.

"That is where my house used to be," Juma Ndayigira, a resident of Rubavu, points to what is now a forested area.

Adjacent to the hills lays the beautiful scenery of Lake Kivu.

"Many of us did not have the means to relocate; we neither had the financial capability nor land to shift to. That is why we opted to remain on the hills," he says.

Musazagore along with 1,200 families were relocated to a village settlement that is connected to water and electricity.

"I am thankful that my neighbours and I were offered better homes so that we can sustain our families without worry," he said.

As an income generating project, Musazagore along with other widows in the communal settlement opened up a savings cooperative and started a poultry farm.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, together with his staff and officials from Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) toured Rubavu Hills on Tuesday as part of the week-long World Environment Day activities that began on May 26.

"Everyone should think about how their actions impact on the environment. Plant trees in your homesteads, desist from illegal fishing of immature fish and mulch your farms to fight soil erosion. Through that, the Rubavu community will have an environment that can sustain us and the future generations," the minister underscored.

"The cost of rehabilitation is about Rwf140 million. We launched the project in 2011 and following the relocation of people, REMA commenced the rehabilitation of the hills," Rose Mukankomeje, the Director Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) said.

"The aim is to protect the environment by promoting ecotourism, where the former risky mountains are no longer a danger to the population around them but beautiful sites for tourism."

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