Rwanda: Who Is Polluting River Nyabarongo?

Environmental experts have recommended thorough investigation into why Nyabarongo River continues to be polluted despite billions of monies that have been invested in its conservation and protection.

The views come after President Paul Kagame recently grilled officials in charge of the environment, over increasing pollution in Nyabarongo River.

Nyabarongo is the longest river in Rwanda, part of the upper headwaters of the Nile. It turns into Akagera River, which eventually flows into Lake Victoria and forms the Nile River.

The river accommodates biodiversity, and supplies water for hydropower production, clean water supply as well as irrigation among other purposes.

Josaphat Kanyeshuri, a researcher and lecturer in environmental studies told The New Times that soil erosion is currently the major contribution to pollution in Nyabarongo River, despite billions of investments invested in protecting the river.

Currently, at least 11 percent of the territory is at extremely high risk of soil erosion, which ends up washing away fertile soil into the river triggering pollution.

“There have been many projects to control soil erosion and conserve the river, but there is lack of proper monitoring to ensure implementation of the existing projects is successful, and ownership among citizens,” he said.

He said that while soil is the primary resource for the country’s population, the government budget should be increased in areas that are vulnerable and in catchments for Nyabarongo River.

Recent studies show that the total annual estimated soil loss was 409 million tons, with a mean erosion rate of 490 tonne per hectare polluting Nyabarongo River.

New research carried out from April to October 2021, also found that the absence of soil erosion control measures accounts for 24.4 per cent of the factors that pollute the Nyabarongo River.

“The soil erosion is affecting all districts in the river’s catchment. Terraces need to be well scaled up and educate farmers on how to adopt affordable techniques. The tributaries that flow into Nyabarongo River also need to be conserved. We have to increase forestry in the catchment and buffer zones,” Kanyeshuri said.

Waste dumping

The researcher said the waste dumped in Nyabarongo River and its tributaries, is causing huge pollution.

“The country is lacking standard landfills. Therefore, waste is easily dumped into rivers. Even the established landfills are not well constructed and waste, such as in Nduba landfill in Kigali, leaks into Nyabugogo River to pollute it. This is happening to other tributaries,” he said.

The dumped waste, he said, is coming from urban areas, households and industries.

New research has established that at 47.8 per cent household waste, followed by industrial waste, is being discharged into Nyabarongo River.

“There is also a big problem caused by waste water. According to environment law, waste water should be treated before being discharged into water bodies. But what is being done is contrary,” he said.

Mining activities

According to the environmental expert, mining activities are also leading to the polluting of Nyabarongo River.

“Mining firms wash minerals and the waste is directly discharged into Nyabarongo River. There is a need for cracking down on mining firms that degrade the environment. Enforcement of the law still requires joint efforts and the districts should mainstream activities to protect the river,” he noted.

According to Eric Bizimana, the vice mayor in charge of economic development in Muhanga district, which is the catchment of Nyabarongo River, about Rwf500 million has been earmarked in the next fiscal year to protect the river from erosion.

“We have to protect the river’s buffer zone, plant trees on hills surrounding it and build anti-erosion facilities in the catchment. This will reduce debris, erosion into the river,” he said.

Water Resources Board reacts

Remy Norbert Duhuze, The Water Monitoring and Quality Control Division Manager at Rwanda Water Resources Board (RWB), reaffirmed that soil erosion and mining activities are on top of Nyabarongo River polluters.

“From our assessments, we have found that Nyabarongo pollution is mainly caused by soil erosion from its catchment. This is mainly demonstrated by high turbidity levels of waters in that river. This soil erosion is partly a result of human activities in the watersheds. Mining activities are also on top in polluting the river,” he said.

He said that interventions are mainly focusing on catchment restoration and protection initiatives.

“We have projects that are specifically intervening in the upper Nyabugogo catchment. Specific actions include terracing, agroforestry, afforestation, creation of soil erosion control trenches, river banks protection, water harvesting, etc.

However, these only cannot totally solve the problem; there is need for enhanced efforts by land owners and all those with activities likely to cause erosion. Thus, the initiated countrywide erosion control campaign needs to be adopted by everyone and sustained,” he said.

According to the auditor general report and MPs, Nyabarongo River buffer zone is being encroached.

“No activity is allowed 50 metres from water bodies’ shores. However, during our assessment we realised that many activities have encroached 50 metres in buffer zones of Lakes Kivu and Muhazi shores, as well as 10 metres from shores of Rivers Nyabarongo and Sebeya, among other water bodies,” said Marie Alice Uwera Kayumba, the Chairperson of the Committee.