A preliminary investigation into the recent massive death of fish in the Northern province has linked the incident to toxic industrial waste.
The tragic incident, which has left several fish farmers counting millions of losses and at the risk of losing the source of their livelihood, has exposed gaps in the regulation of industries specifically with regards to environmental protection.
Yet the environment which we live in is the foundation of life. This means we need to be more vigilant to protect it to have sustainable development.
Homework not done
In this particular instance, it is difficult to understand how such an incident could have happened had the environmental protection agency done its homework.
A comprehensive environmental assessment would have identified the potential major risk of having a pesticide firm located close to a natural water body source. And if the major risk had been highlighted, what measures were put in place to mitigate the risks?
While investigations are not conclusive, the reports of toxic substances in our water bodies underscore the need to step up environmental impact assessments because there is always a risk that environmental degradation usually occurs due to major developments projects and large scale investments such as industries.
The Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) has to intensify efforts to protect our environment by doing more to hold our investors and the different stakeholders in the development process to account.
REMA could also improve transparency in public interest, make more information available to the public who are key stakeholders in protecting the environment.
Stakeholders could help identify problems and come up with promising opportunities for the mitigation of the problems. But perhaps more importantly, they ensure that no aspect has been neglected.
Environmental assessment aside, there is a need for accountability. There is a need to ensure that the fish farmers are compensated for the losses incurred and continue to suffer as fishing activities have been suspended.
There is an urgent need to expedite investigations to enable fish farmers to resume work as for most of them it is their only source of livelihood for their families.
Specifically, the longer it takes to conclude the investigations and hold the different officials to account, particularly in cases where negligence may have occurred, may further paralyse the lives of these fish farmers who may have taken loans to invest in their business.
Therefore, it is important that the extent of the damage is assessed as soon as possible to facilitate compensation. And perhaps more importantly allow these farmers to renegotiate their loan facilities.
Lastly, there is a need for a massive public awareness campaign about the likely risks associated with eating fish from the contaminated water for them to avoid it till it is declared safe.