Water rationing warning as drought bites

Electrogaz, Rwanda’s public utility, is considering water rationing due to shortages caused by a prolonged drought in parts of the country, officials said.

Yves Muyange, the acting chief executive, said the country was now facing a deficit of up to 22,000 cubic metres of water every day and had no alternative until supplies had been boosted.

"Starting this month, we are going to conduct rationing tests across major towns in the country to find out how to implement the programme," he said.

Muyange said efforts were under way to increase water production across the densely populated country of nine million people.

Environmental specialists blame the drought on climate change, with erratic rainfall and frequent dry spells combining to increase water shortages.

Muyange said rationing would ensure that at least the whole country received some water for limited hours daily, to avoid situations where some areas went without water for weeks.

Inadequate water supply puts densely populated areas at risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera and dysentery.

Godie Kwizera, a resident of Gatuna area near the border with Uganda, said water shortages had forced some residents to resort to unsafe water sources such as streams.

"Water goes off for around five days and comes for a few hours before disappearing again; maybe rationing will help us a bit,” Kwizera told IRIN on 2 July.

Photo: Global Handwashing Day
A boys washes his hands at a tap: Rwanda’s public utility, Electrogaz, is considering water rationing due to shortages caused by a prolonged drought in parts of the country - file photo

Population pressure

Experts say population pressure has led to a rapid degradation of the wetlands and forests over the past two decades, making the population prone to hazards of climate change. It is estimated that in the past two decades, Rwanda has lost about 60 percent of its forest cover.

In June, Electrogaz started talks with farmers around the Mulindi wetland, the main source of water for up to a million Kigali residents, on how to share water. The wetland is also the main source of irrigation water for local farmers.

As the drought bites, local residents have increased the amount of water used to irrigate their crops, leaving little water for town dwellers.

"It is like a double jeopardy: reduced water poses a threat to the crops in the valley just like it does to town residents, but most importantly, the country could be hit by food shortages,” Moses Twahirwa, an economist in Kigali, said.

In 2008, a Canada-based firm, Ecosystem Restoration Associates, signed a US$17 million deal with the Rwandan government to implement forestation and reforestation projects in a bid to help the country replace its forest cover and address the impact of climate change.

Stanislas Kamanzi, the Minister of Natural Resources, said the government continued to reform and implement policies to protect the environment, which is under threat from widespread poverty, rapid population growth and weak regulations.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, Rwanda's population has quadrupled in the past 50 years and with nine million people occupying 26,338 sqkm of land, the country remains one of the most densely populated in the world.