Flash floods have affected hundreds of farming households in northern and western Rwanda, increasing the risk of food insecurity in those areas, officials say.
"Overall, the floods have affected around 11,346 people, especially in three districts of Rubavu, Musanze and Nyabihu, with several other marshland areas in the suburb areas of Kigali City [also affected]," Antoine Ruvebana, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, told IRIN.
The floods started in early February, the result of torrential rains that have also led to soil erosion in some hilly regions.
In one of the affected areas, along the banks of the Nyabugogo River, at least 35,000 tons of sugar cane - which could have produced 3,200 tons of sugar per year - were destroyed, according to Agnes Kalibata, an official with Rwanda’s ministry of agriculture. Ministry officials are currently assessing flood damage to paddy fields.
An estimated 85 percent of households in Rwanda cultivate land and rely on agriculture or livestock as their main, and often only, livelihood activity, according to Rwanda’s 2012 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis and Nutrition Survey.
But increasing demographic pressure has resulted in small, semi-subsistence, and increasingly fragmented farms with low returns for farmers. “Access to productive land is a problem. The smaller the plot they are cultivating, the more likely they are to have a low food consumption score,” adds the report.
Climate-related shocks are another challenge for farming households. “A fifth of Rwandan households are vulnerable to flooding, with those in the southern and western provinces more exposed,” the report says.
In response to the floods, the Rwandan government has temporarily relocated residents from high flood-risk areas. Some 230 kitchen gardens have been set up to help to meet the nutrition needs of those affected in Rubavu.
The Rwanda Red Cross Society has provided 600 farming families in Rubavu, Nyabihu and Musanze districts with non-food items, including blankets, mats, kitchen sets, soap and jerry cans. Some 16 public toilets have also been constructed in the district of Rubavu.
"We have advocated for support for the displaced [farmers] who are most vulnerable," Angelique Murungi, the head of disaster management at the Rwanda Red Cross Society, told IRIN.
"There are currently sensitization campaigns being conducted in those affected districts with the support of Rwanda Red Cross volunteers who are based at the community level,"Murungi told IRIN. The campaigns, which are being carried out alongside the provision of humanitarian and technical assistance, advise households on how to manage disasters.