According to the National Risk Atlas of Rwanda, the country faces the risk of five main hazards: drought, landslide, flood, earthquake and windstorms.
The highlands of the Congo-Nile Ridge in the Western, Southern and Northern Provinces are mostly prone to landslides. About 40 percent of the country’s population, according to the atlas, is also exposed to landslides at moderate to very high slope susceptibility Gakenke, Karongi, Muhanga, Ngororero, Nyamagabe Gicumbi, Nyamasheke, Nyaruguru, Rusizi and Rutsiro are the likely disaster-prone districts.
Landslides and floods identified as major hazards are attributed to hilly topography and high annual precipitation rates with overexploitation of the natural environment such as deforestation, inappropriate farming, and poor housing techniques, which accelerate the disaster risks and hence result in losses of lives and damages to property.
This is aggravated by some triggering factors such as steep slopes, soil instability, heavy rains, low level of the drainage system, land-use type, land tenure type, and others.
Over the years, the government has been relocating families residing in these high-risk zones to safe places. Yet despite their best efforts, thousands of families remain in high-risk zones. Many refuse to move because
they underestimate the threat to their lives while others are more concerned about sources of livelihood. They worry that if they relocate, they may be unable to feed their families. Now that the rainy season is here; we cannot expect anything less if there are still families living in these dangerous demarcated zones.
And it is the most vulnerable in our society that is facing this risk. Their options remain limited, and that’s why government intervention is critical. The magnitude of each disaster, be it in terms of deaths, property damage or costs increases with the increment of marginalization of the population.
As the population increases, the best land in rural and urban areas is taken up, and those seeking land for farming or housing are forced to accept inadequate land. These offer less productivity and a smaller measure of physical or economic safety.
Disasters have massive human and economic costs. They may cause many deaths, severe injuries, and food shortages. Most incidents of severe injuries and deaths occur during the time of impact. In contrast, disease outbreaks and food shortages often arise much later, depending on the nature and duration of the disaster.
Anticipating the potential consequences of disasters can help determine the actions that need to be started before the disaster strikes to minimize its effects.
The government must act and move families before disaster strikes because lives lost cannot be replaced. Ideally, this exercise should have been completed during the dry season before the rains started. But better late than never.