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02.02.2017 12:02 Age: 26 days

World Wetlands Day: Celebrating the wonder of our wetlands to increase disaster resilience

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Rwanda, on 2nd February 2017, joined the rest of the world to mark the annual World Wetlands Day, a day which is celebrated worldwide to raise public awareness of wetlands’ values and benefits.

 

This year, the Day is observed under the theme: "Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction". This theme calls on Governments and communities to consider the function of wetlands in reducing the impact of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and cyclones.

 

On the occasion, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) calls on all Rwandan citizens to manage well the country’s wetlands by minimising pressure on them to protect us from extreme weather events.

 

“Wetlands in Rwanda face a lot of pressure especially from poor agriculture, peat extraction, illegal mining, pollution, dumping of wastes, construction activities and illegal infrastructure, among others. It is high time that Rwandans promote sustainable practices which support healthy wetlands for disaster risk reduction,” noted Eng. Coletha Ruhamya, Director General of REMA.

 

Wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and controlling flooding. During the dry season, they release the water stored, delaying the onset of droughts and reducing water shortages. They are also a vital means of storing carbon, therefore helping in mitigation and adaptation to climate change effects. Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known and wetlands are at risk from agriculture’s growing demands for land and water.

 

The frequency of natural hazards has more than doubled and the majority are climate and weather related. According to UN-Water, 90% of all natural hazards are water-related. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th report released in 2014, even more extreme events are going forward as a result of climate change.

 

Rwanda also experienced a growing number of disasters in recent decades, causing loss of lives, displacement of people and damaging of infrastructure, crops and environmental degradation.

 

As revealed by the National Risk Atlas of Rwanda done by the Ministry in charge of Disaster Management (MIDIMAR) in 2015, Rwanda’s most vulnerable areas prone to landslides and floods are located in the North Western parts namely Nyabihu, Ngororero, Rubavu, Musanze, Burera, Gakenke and many others. MIDIMAR’s Drought Hazard Assessment revealed that the Districts of Kayonza, Gatsibo, Kirehe, Nyagatare, Rwamagana, Ngoma and Bugesera in the Eastern province are very likely to experience severe drought from moderate to very high susceptibility. The same assessment indicated that a combined disaster (Floods, landslides and droughts) could cost Rwanda a massive 100 billion Frw ($132 million) loss, bigger than the budget allocated to the country’s agriculture sector.

 

“Safeguarding our wetlands would help us reduce the risks arising from disasters, particularly floods which continue to affect our lives in various ways thus putting lives at risk and reducing our food security,” Eng. Ruhamya further said.

 

“We urge Rwandan citizens to take actions that help conserve and promote sustainable use of wetlands. Everybody should understand and recognize that the future of sustainable development and the green growth targeted by our Country really does depend on wetlands,” She added.

 

Rwanda has 867 marshlands covering a total surface of 278,536 hectares equivalent to 10.6% of the country surface area. In Rwanda, wetlands continue to play an essential role in supporting modern day agriculture. They provide water storage, flood buffering, nutrient removal, and water purification as well as erosion control. Therefore, the Government of Rwanda also encourages communities to support actions that seek to restore degraded wetland across the country.

 

As part of activities to mark Wetlands Day, messages on this year's theme are being disseminated to the general public through media. Activities to create awareness on wetlands good practices for disaster risk reduction were also held during the community work “umuganda” ending the month of January 2017.

 

NOTE TO EDITORS

 

World Wetlands Day (WWD) is an annual event which is widely celebrated on 2nd February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (also called Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2nd February 1971.

 

Rwanda signed this convention on 29th December 2003

 

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

 

For more information or media inquiry, kindly contact Ms. Clarisse KAWERA, Communication & Public Relations Officer, REMA on +250788273000 or by email at ckawera@rema.gov.rw