Scientists call for research into deforestation, illegal mining

Environmental and climate change experts have called for an investigation into deforestation, land degradation and mining activities that have caused the increase in soil erosion and flooding, leaving communities around Lake Kivu vulnerable in Rwanda’s western province and eastern DR Congo.

READ ALSO: Death toll from disasters reaches 135, more than 20,000 homeless

A report, presented virtually by 14 scientists, including Prosper Ayabagabo-Climate and Environmental Researcher at Rwanda Meteorology Agency, says: “Deforestation to clear land for settlements, agriculture and mining has led to widespread soil erosion around Lake Kivu both in Rwanda as in DR Congo, contributing to an increasing risk of landslides.”

It said the lack of capacity to enforce limits or regulation on land encroachment practices has been a major challenge around Lake Kivu.

The assessment of the role of climate change in deadly floods affecting highly vulnerable communities around Lake Kivu was conducted after the May floods and landslides. It concluded that there is an urgent need for robust climate data and research in this highly vulnerable region, highlighting that “the death toll and destruction from the floods in South Kivu, the DRC and western Rwanda were extreme and the high vulnerability and exposure of people to flooding in this region.”

In May 2023, landslides and floods in this region killed 135 people and destroyed up to 5,963 homes, leaving 20,326 people homeless after the Sebeya River burst.

Landscape restoration is required on approximately 18,000 hectares at risk of soil erosion in the Sebeya River Basin to reduce the economic losses and flooding caused that affect businesses around the river in Rubavu, Nyabihu, Rutsiro and Ngororero districts.

According to the Sebeya Catchment Management Plan, quantification of soil loss showed that approximately 8,000 hectares were at high risk, approximately 6,000 hectares at very high risk and approximately 4,000 hectares at extremely high risk of soil erosion.

Despite the recent deadly floods and landslides, the situation has already prompted the devising of projects to control flooding, including restoring the landscape, planting agroforestry, terracing and building dams, collecting stormwater catching, improving cookers.

According to the scientists’ report, while the DRC’s mineral reserves are critical to global production and the transition to a low-carbon economy and its forests act as a major carbon sink for the world’s carbon polluters, the country continues to suffer the effects of extreme weather exacerbated by mining activities that contribute to land and water degradation, labor abuse and conflict.

In early May 2023, severe flooding around Lake Kivu devastated communities in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Flooding and landslides led to at least 595 deaths, of which 460 in the DRC and 135 in Rwanda.

READ ALSO: Grieving mother still searching for 7-year-old son missing under landslide

The increase in heavy precipitation with future warming is consistent with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections across Central and East Africa, which also show an increase in heavy rainfall.

“While the paucity of data prevents us from drawing conclusions about the role of climate change in today’s floods, the potential for further increases in heavy rainfall in this flood and landslide-prone area points to an urgent need to reduce vulnerability. ” reads part of the report.

More than 745,000 hectares of agricultural land in Rwanda may lose its topsoil each year as the country experiences more than Rwf800 billion losses annually due to soil erosion.

“As action assessment activities begin to take place in the region, and in recognition that such events may become more frequent, it will be essential for those involved to consider how this recovery can contribute to adaptation by reducing community vulnerability and exposure At the very least, it will be critical to ensure that recovery efforts do not expose these communities to increased risk and do not lead to adaptation,” the scientists recommended.

Abias Maniragaba, an environmentalist, stressed that afforestation and reforestation, sustainable mining and good use of land are urgently needed in the western part of Rwanda and other parts of the country.

“The soil is no longer resistant to soil erosion due to agricultural activities that do not spare the environment. This has led to more landslides and flooding. Deforestation in the area needs to be controlled. There may be effects of climate change and so we need infrastructure for adaptation.,” he noted.

Afforestation and reforestation are required on 39,901 hectares (4 percent of the land at risk).

Agroforestry is required on 101,232 hectares (9 percent of the total land at risk).

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