10 August 2012

Rwanda: Refugee Influx Puts Pressure on Environment

The National Environment management Authority (REMA) has called for a well planned and organised way of resettling the people fleeing into the country as result of conflicts especially those being resettled in refugee camps.

According to the Atlas of Rwanda's changing environment released last week, there is a likely increase of climate change and associated environmental catastrophes.

The report indicates that the trans-border movement of people and their subsequent resettlement occasionally causes a range of environmental pressures especially in the already overpopulated areas.

It adds that this is compounded in situations where these movements and settlements are unplanned.

"Climate change is likely to increase the transboundary movement of people fleeing from associated environment catastrophes. Unless planned well the pressure on refugee camps and surrounding environment degradation is likely to increase," states the report.

The report cites the Gihembe refugee camp in Gicumbi district Northern Province that hosts 20,000 people on 44 hectares that generates large volumes of high speed and uncontrolled storm water. This in end has caused gully erosion that has led to land slumps and landslides which keep growing in size.

Another similar environmental degradation condition is said to exist in the Kiziba camp where 19,000 people are settled on 27 hectares of land.

There are also worries that proposed construction of the 450 Km railway line between Isaka in Tanzania, Kigali and Musongati in Burundi is likely to increase cross border movement. According to experts this will not only affect the environment but also multiply the transmission and severity of human and livestock diseases.

"The rising transboundary movement of people could the transmission of human and livestock diseases. This is because geographic shift in human and vector borne diseases could result from the growing cross border movement of people and with them, the transboundary movement of livestock and pets," continues the report.

The report shows how to prevent negative effects of the transboundary movement. It cites the Nyabiheke refugee camp that hosts 15,000 inhabitants is well organised and laid out without cutting down the existing woodland. "This was done deliberately to avert the environmental pressure exerted following the establishment of the Gihembe camp in 1997," states the report.

Government now believes that to effectively tackle the problem, there is need to identify individual stakeholders who could be a source of the transboundary environmental problems and co-opting them in the collaborative mechanism for natural resources that mutually benefit these individuals and the multiple state agencies might well be the best way to ensure integrity of these resource from the ground up.

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