Global warming is a planet threat with real implications for everyone no matter where they live. As convened in the international conference on climate change, limiting warming below 1.5°C by 2100 is still feasible. And this is more important to a country like Rwanda.
Rwanda’s economy and the livelihoods of her people are dependent on the environment and natural resources such as water, land, air, minerals, plants and animals. These natural resources are increasingly under pressure from unsustainable use resulting in environmental degradation as well as decline in ecosystem goods and services.
Being dependent on rain-fed agriculture, Rwanda’s economy and people’s livelihoods are vulnerable to climate variability and climate change. Agriculture, biodiversity, water resources are more likely to be affected. The country’s location in a tectonic region with the epicenter in Lake Kivu and the presence of volcanic chains in the north-west makes Rwanda susceptible to earthquakes. Two earthquakes of 6.1 and 5.0 magnitude with subsequent aftershocks occurred on 2nd and 14th February 2008.
Rainfall in Rwanda is generally well distributed throughout the year, despite some spatial and temporal variability. The eastern and south-eastern regions are more affected by prolonged droughts while the northern and western regions experience abundant rainfall that usually causes erosion, flooding, and landslides. The eastern region, however, has been experiencing rainfall deficits for some decades.
The Bugesera area in the eastern region, in particular, is often devastated by drought, which frequently translates into food insecurity in an area that was previously food secure.
Analysis of rainfall data shows that rainy seasons have tended to become shorter while the intensity of the rain tends to be higher. This tendency has been associated with declines in agricultural production and with events such as droughts in dry areas and floods and landslides in areas experiencing heavy rains. Heavy rains have occurred especially in Northern and Western provinces.
Coupled with deforestation and poor agricultural practices, those rains have often resulted in soil erosion, rock falls, landslides and floods which destroy crops, houses and other infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools) as well as human lives and property. On 28 September 2008, for example, the heavy rains and winds adversely affected 8 among the 12 sectors of Rubavu district: Gisenyi, Rubavu, Rugerero, Nyamyumba, Nyundo, Cyanzarwe, Nyakiriba and Kanama.
More than 500 homes were submerged; about 2,000 hectares of crops destroyed and bridges, roads, pylons and schools washed away. Up to 1,982 houses, 72 primary schools, and 34 secondary schools were partially destroyed.
Rwanda and global warming context
As stated in Rwanda National Strategy for Climate Change and Low Carbon Development document page 1, the country has experienced a temperature increase of 1.4°C since 1970, higher than the global average, and can expect an increase in temperature of up to 2.5°C by the 2050s from 1970. According to RWANDA State of Environment and Outlook Report 2015 on its page XV; although Rwanda has one of the world’s lowest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, it is highly vulnerable to the impacts of temperature and rainfall changes due to climate change since it relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture for subsistence livelihoods and tea and coffee cash crops.
As well, half of its electricity generation, a significant driver of economic growth, depends largely on hydropower. The country’s average temperature increased by 1.4°C since 1970 and by the 2050s, it is likely to rise by up to 2.5°C from the 1970 average, while in the future, it could experience increased rainfall intensity during both rainy seasons.
Climate change effects to affect Rwanda
Already, Rwanda feels the impacts of global climate change, in the form of flooding and droughts, which cost lives and resources and adversely affects agricultural output. With higher temperatures in the future, crop pests could expand their ranges but so could coffee and tea crops, among other potential impacts. Projections for East Africa over Rwanda and Burundi show an increasing trend in rainfall intensity for both rainy seasons which are likely to cause floods and storms which can result in landslides, crop losses, health risks and damage to infrastructure.
Temperature rise may increase the spread of vector-borne diseases, air-borne and water-borne diseases, impacting on animal and human health, and could negatively affect crop yields, impacting food security and export earnings. Higher temperatures result in higher altitudes at which tea and coffee can be grown, which may significantly impact the land available for tea and coffee, and may result in land use conflict.
Extreme weather already negatively impacts the economy and climate change could result in annual economic costs of just less than 1% GDP by 2030.
Nowadays, Rwanda is sometimes subject to droughts, floods and various types of storms as well as earthquakes and landslides. The reports of The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs in Rwanda (MIDIMAR) show that over the last decade, the frequency and severity of natural disasters, particularly floods and droughts, have significantly increased, raising the toll of human casualties as well as economic and environmental losses. Over the past two decades, floods and droughts have affected over 2 million people in Rwanda. The reports indicate.
Causes and probable solutions
Rwanda is endowed with abundant water resources, but they are unevenly distributed over the country’s area and throughout the year. Rwanda often suffers from per capita water stress or water scarcity due to the unequal distribution of rainfall and poor water resource management. Nevertheless, it uses only about two per cent of its renewable freshwater, of which irrigation uses the most.
There must be a room to accelerate water resources development to provide the Rwandan population with adequate improved water supplies and sanitation, increase the sustainable use of water for irrigation to boost agricultural output and to supply water for new hydro developments, businesses and industrial opportunities to further green the Rwandan economy especially through rainwater harvesting, action plans include addressing water quality and the causes and impacts of pollution as well as adaptation to climate change.
Rwanda’s annual urban growth rate far exceeds the worldwide average, and population density, at 415 inhabitants/km2, is the highest in Africa. By 2020, its urban population will have grown from 1.5 million today to about 4.5 million.
Kigali is the main urban area, assimilating most rural-urban migration, providing about a third of all jobs and accounting for one-tenth of the country’s entire population and almost half of its urban population. Ninety per cent of urban households have access to an improved water source, compared with 83.7 per cent of households in rural areas; 67.4 of urban households use charcoal for cooking, followed by firewood; and 83.4 per cent have access to improved sanitation at the national level.
Consequently, Rwanda has to strengthen the moving forward with plans to develop Green Model Cities with Green Economic Opportunities.
Strict respect of engagements required
In October, before the Climate Change Conference (COP22), in Marrakesh, Morocco, Rwanda joined more than 80 nations to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a historic international treaty that aims to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius with an ambition to keep increases below 1.5 degrees. In Morocco, Rwanda also joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC); a voluntary international coalition of governments, international organizations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations that aims to reduce emissions of Short Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon, methane and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), which are responsible for a substantial proportion of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and, thus, warming; avoid millions of premature deaths; promote food and energy security; and address near-term climate change created in 2012.
As stated in the new times article, published on 30th December 2016, The Minister of Natural Resources in Rwanda, Vincent Biruta emphasized that the Paris Agreement will provide the much-needed international support to help vulnerable countries like Rwanda to both mitigate further growth in greenhouse gases emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on November, 4, 2016, thirty days after at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.
Given the vulnerability of Rwanda to climate variability and climate change it is wise to recommend Rwanda to encourage all interventions which make the country to stay below 1.5 degrees and promoting current adaptive strategies in the health, agriculture, infrastructure, water and tourism sectors.
Global warming is caused by a variety of gases and materials in our atmosphere; including huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane from human activities such as extracting and burning fossil fuels, and clearing forests. These gases can trap heat in the atmosphere, causing steadily increasing temperatures. Significant climate impacts are already occurring at the current level of global warming (approaching 1°C) and higher levels of warming will only increase the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.
Therefore, limiting warming below 1.5°C by 2100 is still an imperative to worldwide. The recent reports of MIDIMAR show that a warming of 1.5°C above would already lead to high risks from extreme weather. This is why limiting warming to 1.5°C in Rwanda is very required since it will significantly reduce these risks.
Eng. Pamphile Bakundukize (MSC)