The World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February. Its aim is to raise the global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands signed on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar city, Iran. In this regard, the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB), based in the College of Science and Technology, University of Rwanda hosted a webinar to discuss the current status of wetlands conservation in Rwanda, and to explore the challenges and opportunities.
The webinar was organized on 2 February 2022, where six speakers from three institutions participated. These were Mr. Alphonse Nzarora (Research Assistant for the UKRI-funded ARUA Water CoE project titled ‘Unlocking Resilient Benefits form African Water Resources’ [RESBEN] https://www.ru.ac.za/iwr/aruacoe/ and Assistant Lecturer at the University of Rwanda), Professor Elias Bizuru (Research Associate of the CoEB and lecturer at the University of Rwanda), Mr. Jean Ferus Niyomwungeri (Community Conservation Programme Manager at Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association), Dr. Deo Ruhagazi (Senior Programme Manager and Veterinarian at Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association), Mrs Christelle Suavis Iradukunda (Bugesera Landscape Manager at Albertine Rift Conservation Society, ARCOS) and Mrs Brigitte Kanyamugenge (Head of Community Development Programme at ARCOS). The webinar was attended by 104 participants and took place on google meet. Participants came from different disciplines across the planet. The recording of the webinar can be found here.
Mr. Alphonse Nzarora in his presentation stressed the importance of using biological indicators in water quality monitoring. He specified that one of the benefits of the use of bioindicators is their ability to indicate some of the indirect effects of pollutants that cannot be indicated by physical and chemical measurements. He also added that biological assessment of water quality is comparatively cost-efficient and requires basic equipment compared to the use of physicochemical properties. He concluded that biological indicators could be an answer where financial limitations are an issue for monitoring water quality.
Prof. Elias Bizuru presented about the sustainable use of wetlands in Rwanda. He highlighted different ecosystem services provided by wetlands and mentioned some of the opportunities and challenges faced by wetland conservation in Rwanda. The opportunities include the availability of water for irrigation and the rich biodiversity while challenges include invasive species and pollution from inorganic pollutants from agriculture.
Example of a restored wetland in Rwanda (Rugezi wetland), the only Ramsar wetland in Rwanda that has been restored in 2004. Photo by Prof. Elias Bizuru.
Ms. Christelle Iradukunda and Ms. Brigitte Kanyamugenge presented about the efforts made by ARCOS to restore the Amasangano wetland located in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. The Amasangano wetland is located at the confluence between Akanyaru and Nyabarongo Rivers. This wetland was recently impacted by unsustainable agriculture, invasive species, unsustainable fishing and quarries for clay extraction. Additional challenges in the area include droughts and floods while opportunities include tourism activities.
Mr. Jean Ferus Niyomwungeri and Mr. Deo Ruhagazi shared a pre-recorded video about the work of RWCA to protect wetlands that are home to endangered grey crowned cranes. According to the video shared during the webinar, RWCA has restored Umusambi village, a privately owned touristic wetland located at Kabuga, in Kigali city. The restored wetland is now home to cranes. Further, the video revealed an almost doubling in the number of cranes in Rwanda from 487 in 2017 to 997 in 2021.
In the open discussion, Dr. Deo Ruhagazi mentioned that wetlands in Rwanda are divided into three classes. He said that some wetlands are fully protected, others are conditionally used while others are unconditionally used. Fully protected wetlands are only for conservation and no activity should take place there except conservation activity. Wetlands which are used conditionally can be used for limited activities such as organic agriculture while wetlands which are used unconditionally can be used for any activity according to preferences of the owner.
This webinar was an opportunity to share experience among different researchers working in different organizations and those who have a stake in wetland conservation. All discussions were intended to guide future research and restoration activities. The webinar stressed the importance of checking the class of the wetland, whether it is to be used conditionally or unconditionally or if it is fully protected before any intervention. The other recommendation is to look back at the wetland’s history and check the original status of the wetland. This information will then guide restoration activities especially when choosing which plants need to be planted in each wetland. The status of the wetland is also important for setting realistic targets when planning restoration interventions.
By Venant Nzibaza, Research Assistant for RESBEN in Social Science
University of Rwanda, Centre of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB)