Statement on Environmental Event of Concern - Wildfire Occurrence at Rugezi Wetland, Northern Province, Rwanda

On Monday, 6 September 2021 at approximately 4:00 pm, a wildfire broke out at the Rugezi Wetland in Gakenke Village, Ruconsho Cell, Rwerere Sector, Burera District in Rwanda’s Northern Province. The cause of the fire is now under investigation by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, and one suspect has been arrested by the Rwanda National Police in Burera District. 

The wildfire at Rugezi Wetland was brought under control and extinguished at approximately 2:00 am by authorities from Burera District, the Rwanda Defence Force and rangers from the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association. They were assisted by local residents who helped to extinguish the blaze. 

It is estimated the wildfire burnt 50 hectares, causing significant damage to the flora and fauna of the internationally significant wetland. The fire also caused large greenhouse gas emissions and localised air pollution. Residents living nearby are encouraged to avoid the area, monitor their well-being and seek medical care if they experience respiratory issues related to the smoke.

Over the last five years, fire has broken out at the Rugezi wetland three times. Most instances have occurred in the vicinity of Rwerere and Rusarabuye sectors, and typically during the transition from the dry season and rainy season. 

The Rwanda Environment Management Authority thanks all stakeholders who worked through the night and in difficult conditions to extinguish the fire. 

A thorough investigation is now underway to examine the cause and impacts of the fire, and provide recommendations on the continued sustainable management of the ecosystem. The investigation will be conducted with security institutions, district authorities and local conservation partners.

About Rugezi Wetland

Rugezi wetland is a peatland located in Burera and Gicumbi districts in Rwanda’s Northern Province, covering 6,736 hectares and lying at an altitude of approximately 2,050 metres. It has been classified by Bird Life International as one of seven Important Bird Areas by hosting threatened bird species including the Bradypterus graueri and Grey Crowned Crane.

Rugezi wetland is one of Rwanda’s strategic water resources and plays a critical role in regulating and filtering water flows into Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo, which feed two of the country’s largest hydropower plants, Ntaruka and Mukungwa. Rugezi was designated as Ramsar site in 2006, meaning it is of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Rugezi benefits from full protection status under Prime Ministerial Order No 006/03 of 30/01/2017 establishing the list of swamps and their limits and regulating their management and use.