EDITORIAL: While we cannot prevent natural disasters, let’s try to manage their effects

Wednesday January 8 2020

floods

A flooded section in Kigali, Rwanda on December 25, 2019.  

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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Torrential rains that hit Rwanda during Christmas have claimed lives of more than 12 people on top of causing displacements and damages to power, water and road infrastructure.

As the holiday season comes to a close, many are the people who did not enjoy the privilege as torrential rains left them homeless or they lost their loved ones while the security forces were given extra workload as they engaged in rescue missions.

The rains also damaged property, road, energy and water infrastructure. Official figures show that the torrential rains destroyed 113 houses and 49 hectares of crops countrywide. Meanwhile, the flooding drastically increased water levels, affecting not just treatment plants but also supply to parts of City of Kigali.

While the Rwanda Meteorological body forecasts indicate that the intensity was expected to subside in the following days, the agency expressed concerns that the rains could still be disastrous given the  extent of the damage on the land.

But Kigali’s risk to floods is exacerbated by inefficient storm water management as its fast growth has not been matched by systematic drainage collection, transportation and disposal of its storm water.

Proper storm water management also helps to avoid damages on infrastructure as well as flood prevention. Storm water management is essential to prevent erosion of agricultural land and flooding of inhabited urban or rural areas.

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Both cases can cause severe damage and contamination of the environment if sanitation facilities are flooded. This results in high costs and massive suffering for the local communities.

While man has no control over natural disasters, adequate investments in storm water management will help minimise negative impact on the environment. Moreover, the State of Environment and Outlook Report published in 2017 indicated that many of the existing drainage systems are inadequately maintained.

Rwanda Today understands that the government is engaging the World Bank to add a component of storm water management in the on-going Rwanda Urban Development project though details of the project are yet to be made public.

Experts working on the Kigali City master plan had called for studies to guide the design of drainage routes that can accommodate current and future storm water volumes in view of the 2050 Kigali City growth projection.

But more importantly, it is critical to have an evacuation plan before floods occur to help avoid confusion and prevent injuries and property damage. Such a plan should be made public and those at risk should be prepared to evacuate before water levels rise and cut off identified routes.

There is a need to practice evacuation plans on a regular basis and update plans and procedures based on lessons learned from exercises to improve disaster responsiveness.

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