Rwanda undoubtedly faces significant environmental challenges. The main problems facing the environment in Rwanda are pressures from the growing population on the natural resources such as land, water, flora and fauna and other non-renewable resources. This is most evidenced in land degradation, soil erosion, a decline in soil fertility, deforestation, wetland degradation and loss of biodiversity. Key issues include deforestation due to the cutting down of trees for fuel, overgrazing, soil exhaustion, soil erosion and widespread poaching. The impact of climate change is another significant challenge that exacerbates the existing ones. Rwanda already faces significant challenges due to the existing climate variability and is not adequately adapted to existing climate risks. Climate change has resulted in an increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events, particularly floods and droughts over the last few years. These natural hazard-induced disasters have had major human, environmental and economic impacts. Rwanda needs to invest in adapting to current climate challenges as well as in adaptation to anticipate future changes.
These environmental challenges have some significant impact on the population especially on the poorest who are most dependent on their environment. The livelihood and food security of a majority of the population indeed depend directly on the ecosystems and the goods and services derived from them, as does the health of the population. There is a high correlation between areas where there is food insecurity and high population pressure, soil erosion and degredation and/or areas prone to drought. Furthermore, the deterioration of the soil reduces food availability for those who depend only or mainly on agriculture for their lively-hood (about 80 per cent of the population). Rwanda is experiencing unusually heavy land loss and about half of Rwanda’s farm land shows evidence of modest to severe erosion. Most soils in Rwanda are exhausted due to continuous farming and little use of fertilizers. Promoting environmental sustainability can therefore be seen as a key element of a pro-poor policy.
Rwanda recognises the importance of sustainable development, environmental protection and reducing biodiversity loss. The protection of the environment and natural resources are seen as fundamental crosscutting issues of sustainable national development as stated in EDPRS1 and in the next EDPRS (EDPRS2) and different strategies have been developed such as the National Strategy for climate change and low carbon development and Rwanda’s strategy for sustainable development has been developed.
Over the last years, the Government has taken several policies and measures to ensure its sustainable development and the protection of its environment. The Government has set a target of increasing the national forest cover to 30 per cent by 2020. In order to achieve that target, the government has put in place restrictions on access to both natural and plantation forests. The Government also encourages rural communities to practice reforestation, and between 2001 and 2006 the proportion doing so increased from 40 to 60 per cent. Out of 30 districts, 15 have already prepared their District Forest Management Plans with the support of development partners. The Government has also developed a carbon-friendly energy policy that is based on a commitment to using renewable sources of energy and aimed at reducing dependence on wood for fuel together with a programme of reforestation. The Policy includes the introduction of the improved cook stove, the use of bio-gas generators, solar energy, hydro-electicity and the explotation of methane gas in Lake Kivu. The Government has a target of reducing the proportion of wood energy in the national consumption from 86 per cent in 2010/11 to 50 per cent by 2020.
One of the main bottleneck is the high population growth that results in a negative impact on the environment, including more pressure on Rwanda’s natural resources such as forests, water, flora, fauna and other non-renewable resources, encroachment for human settlement and farming onto marginal lands, marsh lands, national parks and forests.
Among the priorities, the government of Rwanda needs to place its efforts on reducing the impact of the growing populations effect on the environment. This involves: taking measures to reduce the wood consumption (Making and encouraging investment in renewable sources of energy, increasing the use of modern energy sources, especially in rural areas); encouraging rural communities to practice reforestation; promote water conservation and storage measures; promote sustainable farming practices and take anti-erosion measures
Rwanda also needs to invest in adaptation measures to current climate challenges as well as to anticipate future changes. Support needs to be provided to build mechanisms and institutions to enable climate adaption and climate resilience strategy and to develop an implementation plan.
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