Rwanda’s disaster profile is dominated by heavy rains, floods, landslides, droughts, fire, earthquakes, diseases and epidemics that disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods, destroy the infrastructure and interrupt economic activities and retard development.
The vulnerability of Rwanda is largely due to its topographic and demographic characteristics. This is further exacerbated by impacts of climate change such as the increasing variability in rainfall frequencies and intensity causing climatic hazards such as droughts, floods, extreme temperatures and prolonged dry spells. According to the Baseline Information and Indicators for Rwanda, a report prepared by C4 Eco solutions in January 2012 commissioned by REMA, climate data for 1983 to 2005 shows a trend of declining overall rainfall, interspersed with years of excessive rainfall as well as steadily increasing average temperatures from 32.7 to 35.4 ˚C. More erratic climate conditions and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are becoming more frequent and intense in the country, thereby increasing disaster risks.
Socio-economic, cultural and physical vulnerabilities further aggravate disaster risks. Despite record-high growth recorded by Rwanda over the past decade, there still remains a high poverty incidence. The Third Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey report prepared by MINECOFIN and the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR) revealed that still about 45 per cent of the country’s 10.7 million people remain under the poverty line.
This poverty rate especially in rural areas embodies the country’s socio-economic vulnerability, which contributes to disaster risks when challenged by occurrence of natural hazards at an increasing frequency and intensity.
Poverty encapsulates the very core of socio-economic vulnerability of the Rwandan population with detrimental effects on the population’s disaster resilience. It relegates the poorest of the poor to subsistence livelihoods, poor housing conditions, settlements built in hazard-prone areas such as steep slopes or along riverbanks and valleys, and oftentimes cause people’s lack of access to social services and inadequate financial capacity to meet day-to-day living needs, and not to mention the lack of capacity to cope when disaster strikes.
Cultural factors also worsen the already grim scenarios for the most vulnerable, like for instance; families refuse to relocate to safer areas because they hold strong cultural or traditional bond with their abode or communities where they belonged, lived and cherished all their lives.
Droughts in Rwanda are mainly triggered by a prolonged dry seasons or a delay in the onset of the rainy season. Recurrent drought incidences over the past decade, between 1998 and 2000 and annually from 2002 to 2005, have caused a serious deterioration in food security. Recurrent droughts have caused crop failures and severe food deficits, threatening the most vulnerable with malnutrition and famine.
Drought adversely has an impact on other key sectors. Livestock production has suffered due to water shortages and there has been a decline in both the quality and quantity of pasture. Moreover, when water levels in northern lakes ebbed due partly to prolonged drought, the reduced hydropower supply caused the first major electricity crisis in the country in 2004, which had serious implications on the national economy. Rwanda’s forests have become particularly susceptible to fire hazards due to drought, such as the major fire outbreaks in Nyungwe National Park in 2005. Recurrent droughts are likely to have a significant impact on the environment both in terms of vegetation cover profile and soil conditions. Combined with the potential impacts of climate change, predicting reduced rainfall in the east and southeast, there is growing concern that desertification is gaining a foothold over the savannah landscapes.(National Disaster Management Plan MIDIMAR,2013)
Source: EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database
Earthquake is another geological threat to Rwanda. Available seismic information indicates that parts of Western parts of Rwanda are prone to seismic activity. In 2008, Rusizi and Nyabiheka (both in the western province) were severely hit by a 5.9 earthquake causing 39 deaths, more than 600 injuries and more than 2000 people were left homeless. There is therefore a need to focus on improving seismic monitoring capacity. Besides risk reduction measures such as public awareness and training, reduction of structural vulnerability through the construction of resistant shelters, based on enforceable building codes, earthquake warning and preparedness programs must be carried out. (UNDP, MIDIMAR, 2011)
An epidemic is defined as the prevalence, in a particular community and at a particular period, of a disease whose magnitude goes beyond the normal/expected levels. Disease include: cholera, meningitis and other diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid. Massive chemical or alcoholic poisoning may also create a hazardous condition similar to an epidemic. Modern epidemics include avian influenza (bird flu), Ebola Hemorrhagic fever, and malaria.
In Rwanda, statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that the prevalence and deaths from the three diseases that is Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV had been reducing drastically over the years.
Flood and landslides have been amongst the major disaster in Rwanda and have had a great impact on human development, properties, infrastructure as well as environment. (J.B Nsengiyumwa, 2012)
In Rwanda, different areas are prone to floods and landslides and this is due to various aspects such as geo-aspect, land use and others. Therefore the most vulnerable areas prone to landslide and floods are located in North-Western part namely Nyabihu, Rubaru and Musanze, Burera, Gakenhe, Ngororera and many others. (J.B Nsengiyumwa, 2012)
According to MIDIMAR report (April-June 2012, at least 17 people have been killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed in the North-western Rwanda. In December 2006, 14 people died and 2,000 were displaced after heavy rains caused flooding in northern Rwanda. The flood-waters submerged at least 5,000 homes and 3,000 hectares of farmland, forcing farmers to seek refuge on higher ground (MIDIMAR, 2012).
Several areas of the country have experienced floods following on-going above normal heavy rains which resulted into landslides in localized areas of the country where steep slopes and mountain valley are presents (Meteorological Services, 2012).
According to MIDIMAR 2011, It was reported that at least10 people were killed and a hundred more displaced due to flooding after heavy rains in North-Western of Rwanda in 2011, flood also destroyed 354 houses in the western province and damaged about 3,000hectares of farmland forcing to seek refuge on higher ground.(MIDIMAR Report,2011).
On 7th May 2011, around 14 people lost lives due to heavy landslide that stroke the steep slope in Gakoro cell, Rugera sector of Nyabihu District in Western Province (MIDIMAR Report, May 2011).
In November 2011, Torrential rains caused flooding and landslides which affected community and livelihoods in two sectors of Burera District including Kinyababa and Burera and huge losses were basically composed of human life and enormous agricultural farms collapsed. For all thee emergencies, MIDIMAR and partners responded with relief items to assist victims and the cost of interventions in these event were estimated to eleven Million Rwanda Francs (MIDIMAR Reports 2011)