Protect urban wetlands for a sustainable future: a crucial step towards making our cities safe, resilient and sustainable

As the word celebrates the World Wetlands Day, stakeholders in wetlands management in Rwanda get together to look back at the achievements so far in terms of sustainable wetlands management and use. ARCOS is happy to be an active contributor to this achievement and pledges to continue do so as we continue our road towards making our wetlands a pillar of sustainable development in the country.

Today February 2, as the world celebrates the World Wetland Day, a spotlight has been given to urban wetlands to highlight their irreplaceable contribution to making cities livable places.

Currently, we are experiencing the highest urbanization rate in the history of the words population. At the same time, we have recorded very bad regression of wetlands in the last few decades where more than 64% of the worlds wetlands have been lost since 1900.  These two phenomena come as no coincidence given todays prevalent capitalism-driven mindset of viewing wetlands as vacant land up for grabs for urban expansion or disposal of urban waste.

In Rwanda, the urban population is growing at a very fast rate of 4.5% per year and the country is set to have 35% of its population living in urban areas by 2024. This fast rate of urbanization in Rwanda has had a big impact on the urban wetlands where most were allocated for installation of industrial parks, warehouses, and workshops such as garages. In Kigali for instance, the character of all the urban wetlands has irrevocably been changed and the city has started to see consequences of this loss. Indeed, the city has seen several severe killer floods in its downstream parts of Nyabugogo during the last 5 years. Though this is partly attributed to climate change; the major culprit is the reduction of the wetlands capacity to absorb runoff storm water from the increasingly paved (impermeable) slopes of Kigali so they can release that water slowly overtime.

Apart from this flood regulation service urban wetlands have, they also are good at capturing sediments and filter toxic materials from both domestic and industrial production/consumption so that downstream rivers and streams are less polluted. This function has also been severely reduced for Kigalis urban and peri-urban wetlands which makes the confluence of Nyabugogo (the major river draining the city) and Nyabarongo the biggest point-source pollution in the whole of Akagera basin.

The government of Rwanda has introduced a number of measures to address this issue including the enactment of laws and regulations which allows for better management and use of wetlands in the country. The land law for instance provides for well prescribed use of wetland lands in the country and a buffer of 50m on major important wetlands. Effort has also been put in the enforcement of these laws though some gaps are still observed in the implementation.

Todays celebration of the World Wetlands Day under the theme Urban wetlands - make cities liveable is a good opportunity for awareness raising and sensitization of the public and urban planners about the importance of wetlands as essential green infrastructure for our cities.

The Rwanda Environmental Authority (REMA), the government agency in charge of wetlands management in Rwanda has used the occasion of todays WWD to organize a conference-debate on Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future in Rwanda, an event that saw the participation of government authorities, private sector, civil society, local and international community, academic institutions, as well as the media who all came together to celebrate the achievements made so far in tackling the issue of wetland management in the country and chart a way forward to address the remaining threats that affect these important ecosystems.

Community participation constitutes a corner stone for any successful good wetland management scheme. ARCOS supports communities that depend on wetland services and products in its focal landscapes in Rwanda. Using the approach of Nature-Based Community Enterprises (NBCEs), it contributes to the reduction of pressure on these ecosystems through improvement of community livelihoods and building their capacity to become true stewards of environmental management in their villages. Currently, 15 community groups of fishermen, handcrafts makers, as well as fruits and vegetable producers in Rwanda are being supported with the goal to make these communities a model that can be scaled up to include all communities that live with wetlands in the region. In a recent interview with Dr Sam Kanyamibwa, the Executive Director of ARCOS, he expressed succinctly the view of the organization on this important theme in these words: ARCOS envisions Rwanda as not-only a country of a thousand green hills but also a country of a thousand healthy and functional wetlands that contribute positively to the economy of the country through sustainable agriculture, fishing and ecotourism.  We firmly believe that by safeguarding these key freshwater ecosystems, Rwanda can address the issues of water scarcity, climate-related disasters risk, and food security; while also improving peoples livelihoods, health and well-being.

ARCOS has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and has recently been an active contributor to the process of designating three new Ramsar sites in Rwanda. Currently, ARCOS holds the position of the designated NGO for the Ramsar Conventions programme on Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA) in Rwanda and is currently exploring with REMA and other partners the possibility to roll out a country-wide campaign on wetlands, their sustainable management, and the enhancement of their contribution to the countrys development.

Lets get together to protect, restore and rehabilitate our wetlands; our future depends on it!

The World Wetland Day (WWD) is celebrated each year on February 2nd and the Ramsar Convention selects a theme under which various events across the world are held to raise awareness on sustainable and wise use of wetlands.  This years theme, Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future, is very fitting given the current rapid urbanization in all countries which is going to make cities a major driver of change in wetlands along with other traditional drivers such as agriculture intensification, energy production and climate change.

You can follow worldwide events celebrating 2018s WWD on the Ramsar Conventions WWD website here.