Rwanda is an African country, geographically located in the central-eastern part of the continent, in the great lakes region. The country predominantly relies on agriculture, hence more vulnerable to environmental issues and their consequences. Environmental degradation, as well as population pressures leading to social stress, were critical issues that indirectly sparked the violent conflicts which rocked the country in 1994, culminating in genocide (Homer-Dixon & Percival, 1995). The major environmental problems affecting the country and their remedies are discussed hereafter.
Agriculture is a very important economic sector in the economy of the country, which accounts for 47% of the countrys GDP. Extensive farming, as well as animal husbandry, is a common phenomenon in the country, hence leading to serious environmental degradation on the land. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides used on the farms detrimentally lead to soil pollution, which consequentially results in a decline in land productivity (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg26). Animal husbandry on the other hand has had detrimental effects on the land environment in Rwanda. This practice is extensively carried out on limited pastoral land. Rotative management of pastoral lands is harder to undertake due to land limitations and population pressure. This has resulted in overgrazing, trampling, and disappearance of vegetation cover, all leading to land degradation, a major environmental effect affecting Rwanda (Kabenga & Musabe, 2002).
Land degradation as a result of mining activities is a serious environmental problem affecting Rwanda. Quarries are abandoned and concerns for their rehabilitations are not taken. This practice is considered exploitative to the land as it leads to loss of vegetation cover, soil erosion, and water pollution.
A national dialogue workshop between the Government of Rwanda and the Global Environmental Facility, in February 2004, recommended that urgent interventions should be carried out to fight against agricultural activities which are harmful to the environment and could be leading contributors of land degradation, whose consequential effects are prolonged droughts. The convention advocated for environmentally friendly activities such as agricultural irrigation, harvesting of rainwater among others (National dialogue workshop, 2004, pg.4).
Twagiramungus (2006, pg25) suggestion was that mines and quarries should be rehabilitated after the exploitation of minerals. In its , the Ministry of Natural Resources of Rwanda cautioned against irresponsible mining activities and maintained that a plan will be in place to make sure that mining activities were carried out in a sustainable manner (Natural resources strategic plan, 2009).
This is an intensive phenomenon in Rwanda. Deforestation has been intensified by the reliance on firewood and charcoal as the main sources of energy for the entire Rwandese population. Dependence on timber as the main provider of energy is greatly threatening the survival of forests. Demographic pressure in the country is resulting in the clearance of forests to pave way for human settlements, agricultural, and other human activities. All these practices are the core factors behind extensive deforestation, which has consequentially led to a reduction in vegetation as well as forest cover. Due to deforestation, land degradation and soil erosion are inclined when the (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg22). This is an environmental problem and a challenge that the country has experienced.
To curb this problem, the government tree cultivation, and forestry project in the country. Forest plantations were established in the 1940s. However, various tree species such as eucalyptus were criticized for draining and acidifying places, leading to the extermination of undergrowth hence contributing to soil erosion. Agro-forestry practice has been initiated in agricultural areas. Agro-forestry species have been used to replace those species with the detrimental effect of draining and acidifying the land (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg.21-22).
The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) in conjunction with the Government of Rwanda in an environmental workshop recommended on development of reforestation programs taking into account the appropriateness of the tree species to be planted. The workshop also proposed that both huge and small forest reserves should be protected (National dialogue workshop, 2004, pg.4). Poverty reduction strategy has been developed, which advocates for rational use of firewood while promoting alternative sources of energy (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg.8).
Threats to wetlands regions and water degradation
Deteriorating quality of water and extinction threat to wetlands in the country has been an environmental problem affecting Rwanda. Even though chemical pollution is not widespread due to the countys low industrialization level, microbiological pollution is quite abundant. The natural environment suffers from domestic wastes and other debris washed away by rains surface run-off into water bodies. Water hyacinth and agrochemicals and toxic products are the main pollutants and threats to watercourses as well as water quality.
Various environmental problems have emanated as a result of water resources degradation in the country. Frequent flooding has resulted in detrimental effects on health, land, infrastructure as well as aquatic ecosystems. Drainage basins have been eroded, watercourses sedimented and lakes have been silted up. Reductions in rainfall and prolonged droughts have led to which in turn have disturbed the hydrological cycle (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg17). These are some of the problems associated with the degradation of water resources which the government of Rwanda has offered several remedy measures as follows.
On realizing the importance of wetlands, the government approved the Ramsar convention on wetlands of 2003. Potential wetland sites such as the Mugesera-Rweru complex and Kamiranzuvu marshes had been identified, and implementation of the action plan for the Ramsar convention was initiated in June 2004 (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg 16-17). In its 2020 vision, the government of Rwanda has prioritized the management and protection of the environment. Protection and management of wetlands among other resources have also been encompassed on the National Policy on Environment (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg. 29-30).
Population versus natural resource imbalance
The imbalance between Rwandas population and the available natural resources has brought about several environmental problems in the country. Homer-Dixon referred to scarcity of natural renewable resources in the term environmental scarcity. The scarcities identified were of agricultural land, water, forests among others, which were environmental problems that played a role in the imbalance. The environmental scarcity arises as a result of population pressure on existing resources, degradation of resources, and inequality and imbalance in the distribution of the resources, which indirectly can result in human conflicts over the resources (Baechler, 1998, pg 5). Degradation of these resources is manifested through a reduction in biodiversity, intensive marginalization of arable land, and practices such as deforestation.
This imbalance has resulted in the inclination of poverty levels within the Rwandese households, as much of the population depends on natural resources such as land, water, and timber for their survival.
As a remedy to reduce this imbalance, the government has embarked on an environmental policy whose main objective is to improve human well-being, through thoughtful use of natural resources, management, and protection of the ecosystem for the promotion of sustainable development (Minirena, n.d). The governments 2020 vision outlines that by the year 2020, it intends to have a nation whose pressure on natural resources will have decreased substantially. This is through proper management and protection of the resources. The government has set a mission to reduce household involvement in primary agricultural exploitation from 90% to 50% (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg.29).
Natural calamities resulting from climatic changes are great environmental problems in Rwanda. Hazards such as droughts, flooding, torrential rains, and landslides constitute an unending challenge to the country. The country sometimes faces prolonged droughts and intensified flooding, which brings about detrimental effects on the environment and its population in general. Drought for instance brings in various human and livestock diseases, declination in agricultural production leading to food insecurity, people migration and loss of vegetation cover and some animal species. An example of drought effects was observed in 2000 in the Busegera region where hippopotamuses died and water resources decreased drastically.
Torrential rains and flooding are responsible for the destruction of food crops, extensive soil erosion, and landslides, destruction to develop infrastructures such as roads and bridges, and loss of human lives as well as animals. 108 people lost their lives during the flooding of December 2001 and May 2002 in the North and Western parts of the country. (Twagiramungu, 2006, pg27). These are environmental problems that greatly affect the country up to date.
Earthquakes, as well as volcanic eruptions, pose another environmental problem in the country.
The country is geographically located on the occidental rift valley region is prone to eruptions and earthquakes. Volcanic dust, toxic gases, and lava flow cause death to people, destruction of property and the environment. Bush fires and conflicts are other hazards that result in problems related to environmental degradation in the country.
The government of Rwanda through the National Policy on Environment and vision 2020 has embarked on sensitizing its population on the management and protection of natural resources which can help reduce some natural hazards such as flooding and droughts.