30 July 2012

Rwanda: Kigali Master Plan to Reduce Environmental Threats

Photo: SteveRwanda/Wikipedia
Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda is considered as one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa with urban population growth last reported at 4.48 percent in 2010.

Rwanda is considered as one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa. According to a World Bank report released in 2011, the urban population growth (annual %) in Rwanda was last reported at 4.48 in 2010. That growth is reflected in the expansion of Kigali, illustrated by the constructions to accommodate the constantly increasing population.

Making sure that the growth of the cities in Rwanda and Kigali city in particular does not jeopardize the environment is one of the biggest concerns of the planners of the city of Kigali, because the contrary would be bad not only for the environment but also dangerous for the people.

Currently, the city is causing some challenges to the environment mostly due to its previous expansion that was not well planned and was taking place in a disorganized manner. "People built wherever they could find available plots: on steep hills, in wetlands," remarked Geoffrey Kyatuka, environmental planning expert for the City of Kigali.

Kyatuka showed that even those who were doing some economic activities like mining were doing it without proper plans and methods, which caused the degradation of the lands. "This is why we see people's houses and lives destroyed by rains on the slopes of hills and floods in valleys, because residences and economic activities were put in places such as wetlands that are responsible for regulating water flow," explained Kyatuka.

But another big challenge that is facing the city currently is waste disposal. "The rubbish is collected and transported, but disposing of it is another matter," said Innocent Kabenga, an expert on environment and the assistant regional project manager of the Nile Basin Initiative, a cooperative venture between nations who share the waters of the Nile River to achieve water security and avert conflicts over water resources.

"Until recently, when the new landfill started being constructed, the waste was being taken to Nyanza, which is just an open dumpsite," highlighted Kabenga, saying that this is quite dangerous for the liquid that comes from the waste, known as leachate, can penetrate in the soil and contaminate any water source nearby. In addition, the waste also produces gases that contribute to air pollution.

These are just a few of the challenges that city planners are currently addressing, along with liquid waste management system that is still inadequate, especially industrial and domestic liquid waste.

Kyatuka declared that in collaboration with the Rwanda Environment Management Authority REMA, all Kigali city's wetlands boundaries were mapped and all the structures in such disaster prone areas are about to removed. "We have also developed a proposal to the government to relocate people living on those wetlands and steep slopes to designated areas," said Kyatuka.

And to avoid a repetition of the same mistakes of unplanned settlements and constructions, each new project is subjected to an environmental impact assessment to evaluate the noise pollution, solid and liquid waste management and rehabilitation plans after completion of the project among others.

"Having a proper master plan and enforcement mechanisms is necessary to have a controlled growth of the city," commented Kabenga, adding that as long as the plan is followed, the consequences of the growth should be within manageable limits. "It is important to ensure that people are building properly and in the right places and locations."

According to Kyatuka, having a central sewage is also one of the priorities to avoid the direct discharge of used waters in nature. "Right now, while waiting to build the sewage system, any new structure that comes up is required to have a septic tank," he noted.

A new landfill was also constructed with modern techniques to try and reduce its impact on the environment. "Waste disposal is very important in a city that is growing like Kigali," explains Kabenga, adding that otherwise, the residents may have to face consequences such as diseases and other health hazards, in addition to making the city unattractive to outsiders causing heavy economic losses.

For Kabenga, controlling pollution is vital for not only the look and feel of the city, but also the health of its residents. For that, planting trees and putting in place public gardens can help a lot. "Such green areas are considered the lungs of the city, as they bring in some fresh air and absorb the carbon."

But taking care of the environment as the city grows cannot be the task of the authorities alone, everyone needs to be involved. And as Kyatuka says, a lot of work awaits them in that area of getting people on board. "People's mindset is still poor when it comes to understanding that the environment is vital to their wellbeing," he remarked. "Some still don't grasp why certain things should not be done or allowed for the sake of the nature around them."

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