Fish deaths linked to toxic waste

Sunday October 28 2018

Mukungwa

Mukungwa River in Musanze District. Fishing in Musanze waters has been banned pending a plan to decontaminate. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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A preliminary investigation into the mass death of fish in the Northern Province has linked the incident to a toxic industrial chemical linked to Sopyrwa, the pesticide firm affiliated to the Military.

Rwanda Today has learnt that some officials working for Sopyrwa have been questioned by Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB).

This followed a joint investigation by RIB and the Ministry of Defence.

When contacted for a comment, RIB spokesperson Modeste Mbabazi confirmed investigations into the matter took place but he could not give further details saying that the case was being handled by the Ministry of Defence.

“RIB only assisted in conducting the inquiry. I’d refer you to the military prosecution department, it is in a better position to comment,” he said.

Investigations still ongoing

For its part, the army spokesperson Lt Col Innocent Munyengango confirmed that the army undertook the investigation which, he said, was still on-going owing to the technicalities involved.

“There is a need to confirm what the chemical agent in question was, as well as determine whether or not it originated from Sopyrwa,” said Lt Col Munyengango, adding, “I can assure you that in case Sopyrwa is found to be the cause as claimed, appropriate measures will be taken including compensating for the losses and making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

A team of experts led by Rwanda environment management authority (REMA) visited and collected samples at River Mukungwa and its effluents after dead fish were seen floating on September 21, a phenomenon also witnessed in the ponds owned by aqua farmers along Muko, Rwaza and Rusasa sectors in Musanze District.

The environment regulator said it was able to identify the toxic chemical that polluted the water through laboratory analysis of collected samples — details that were crucial for the agency to provide guidance on the proper way to decontaminate the site.

“We have written to Rwanda agriculture board to advise on the appropriate way of cleaning up the site to allow fishing activities in the ponds to resume,” Coletha Ruhamya, director-general of Rwanda environment management authority told Rwanda Today.

More details

Ms Ruhamya confirmed the report contained specific details like the name of the chemical in question and levels of pollution it caused, which Rwanda Today was not able to obtain by press time.

She said evidence like the source of the chemical and who could be liable for the pollution would be determined by an inquiry by investigation agencies.

The defence ministry did not give the timelines when the investigations are expected to be concluded but Mr Munyengango said they want it concluded in the shortest time possible for concerned institutions to devise the next course of action.

The outcome of the case could put the army factory on the spot especially regarding the way it handles its waste, and its compliance to environmental standards.

The country’s environment protection laws are strict about water pollution and more specifically disposing of chemicals of any nature into waters, an act punishable by a fine ranging from Rwf2 million to Rwf5 million and an imprisonment of up to two years.

Meanwhile, fishing activities in Musanze waters are banned pending a plan to carry out decontamination.

Rwanda agriculture board officials admit fish farmers incurred losses, but were yet to state what the exact damage was and what could be the likely impact on the fish farming subsector.