Chapter 1. Introduction
1.1 Environmental dimension awareness
1.2 Environment and Vision 2020
1.3 Environmental management and poverty reduction
Chapter 2. Rwanda’s environmental features
2.1 Natural environment
2.1.1 Geophysical features
2.1.2 Natural resources and biodiversity
22.214.171.124 Soil and subsoil
126.96.36.199 Forests and protected areas
188.8.131.52 Energy resources
2.2 Human environment
2.2.1 Socio-demographic and economic features
184.108.40.206 Socio-demographic features
220.127.116.11 Economic aspects
18.104.22.168 Human settlements
2.3 Institutional and legal framework
Chapter 3. Environmental problems
3.1 Degradation of natural resources and biodiversity
3.1.1 Population-resources imbalance
3.1.2 Land degradation
22.214.171.124 Natural causes
126.96.36.199 Man-made causes
3.1.3 Loss of biodiversity
3.1.4 Water resources reduction
3.2 Energy crisis
3.3 Various types of pollutions
3.4.1 Natural disasters
3.4.2 Man-made disasters
3.5 Poor consideration of environmental dimension by socio-economic
3.5.1 Transport and Communications
3.5.2 Trade, Industry and Tourism
3.5.3 Education, Information and Research
3.5.4 Human settlement and Health
188.8.131.52 Human settlement
3.5.5 Economic planning
3.6 Environmental problems with international scope
3.6.1 Climatic changes
3.6.2 Depletion of the ozone layer
3.7 Gender and youth problems in environmental protection
3.8 Weak policy, institutional and legal framework
Chapter 4. Principles and objectives of the National Environment Policy
4.1 General principles of the policy
4.2 Overall objective
4.3 Specific objectives of the policy
Chapter 5. Policy statements and strategic actions
5.1 Population and land-use management
5.1.1 Policy statement
5.1.2 Strategic actions
5.2 Natural resources
5.2.2 Water resources
5.2.4 Forests and protected areas
5.3 Socio-economic sectors
5.3.1 Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries
5.3.2 Transport and Communications
5.3.3 Trade, Industry and Tourism
5.3.4 Energy and Mining
5.3.5 Education, Information and Research
5.3.6 Health and Sanitation
5.3.7 Economic planning
5.4 Atmosphere, Climate and Disasters
5.5 Gender, Youth and Environment
Chapter 6. Policy implementation
6.1 Legal framework
6.2 Institutional framework
6.3 Role of civil society and the private sector in the implementation of the
6.4 Regional and international cooperation
6.5 Monitoring and evaluation
6.6 Decentralization and environmental management
Environmental concerns date to long time back, and they prompted the country to
take measures aimed at environmental protection. Various initiatives were taken at
different periods. Thus during the colonial era, programmes for the conservation and
establishment of protected areas and other reserves were launched and continued
well after independence.
However, the degradation of environment continued to worsen as a result of the
population pressure, serious erosion, pressure on natural resources, massive
deforestation, pollution in its various forms, lack of a strong and coherent political,
institutional and legal framework and, in a particular way, as a result of the 1994 war
Faced with this situation, the Government of National Union found it necessary and
urgent to provide the country with an environmental policy capable of improving
man’s well-being, with a view to guaranteeing sustainable utilisation of natural
resources and the protection of vital ecosystems for present and future generations.
The National Environment Policy sets out overall and specific objectives as well as
fundamental principles for improved management of the environment, both at the
central and local level, in accordance with the country’s current policy of
decentralisation and good governance.
The policy sets out also institutional and legal reforms with a view to providing the
country with a coherent and harmonious framework for coordination of sectoral and
cross-cutting policies. It furthermore introduces innovations including, among others,
the establishment of a Rwanda Environment Management Authority and provincial
and district or town committees responsible for environmental protection.
It also lays a solid foundation for the establishment of a legal framework for improved
management of the environment, as well as the right principles for the participation of
the population in general, and women and the youth in particular.
The National Environment Policy contains policy statements and strategic options
with regard to population and land-use management, management and utilization of
natural resources and other socio-economic sectors, as well as the necessary
arrangements for the implementation of the policy. It provides a framework for the
reconciliation of the three pillars of sustainable development, namely environment,
social and economic issues. It is thus in line with the policy for poverty reduction
while ensuring the quality of life and environment.
This policy is the outcome of wide consultations carried out by the Ministry of Lands,
Resettlement and Environment. The preparation of the policy document involved
State institutions, United Nations Agencies, Non Governmental Organisations and
Civil Society at every stage.
The Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Environment wishes to thank in a very
particular way the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for their financial and material support.
It conveys also its deep gratitude to all the national experts and to all those who, in
one way or another, contributed to the preparation of this policy document. Finally, it
invites each and everyone to take an active part in its implementation.
Prof. Laurent NKUSI
Minister of Lands, Resettlement
Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION
Environment is a set of physical, chemical and biological elements as well as socio-
economic, cultural, aesthetic and intellectual factors likely to have a direct or indirect,
immediate or long term impact on the development of environment, human beings
and human activities. It is a cross-cutting field and must be integrated in economic
growth and social development with which it constitutes the three pillars of
sustainable development. The fight against poverty, long term planning and
protection and management of natural resources constitute the essential objectives
of the national environment policy for sustainable development.
1.1 Environmental dimension awareness
Awareness of environmental issues in Rwanda goes back to the colonial period when
actions aimed at the protection and conservation of environment were undertaken at
Indeed, reforestation activities started in 1920. Thereafter were created respectively
Albert Park (1925), the Natural Forest of Nyungwe as a reserve forest (1933) and the
Akagera National Park (1935). These environment friendly initiatives were also
supported by a vast campaign for soil conservation initiated by INEAC (later known
as the Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda (ISAR)) since 1937 first in
research stations, before extending it to the whole country when, in 1947, soil
conservation activities were made compulsory by colonial law. This policy was
discontinued after independence because it was resented as a drudgery.
After independence and particularly since 1977, action programmes of an
environmental nature were launched under annual themes such as: human
settlement (1977), stockbreeding (1978), soil protection and conservation (1980),
water supply in rural areas (1981), erosion control (1982), reforestation (1983). Also
in 1983, a Division of Hygiene and Environment was created in the Ministry of Health
and Social Affairs. The first national seminar on environment was organized by this
Ministry in 1985
This seminar recommended the development of a national environment strategy.
This was done in 1988-1989, and the strategy was adopted by Cabinet in May 1991.
The aims of this strategy were as follows:
to enable the country to strike a dynamic balance between population and
resources while complying with the balance of ecosystems;
to contribute to sustainable and harmonious socio-economic development
such that, both in rural and urban areas, men and women may realize their
development and well-being in a sound and enjoyable environment;
to protect, conserve and develop natural environment, these activities
being the concerns of each and everyone.
In 1989 was created the “Environment and Development Project” in the Ministry of
Planning, which later became the National Environment Unit, a springboard for the
establishment of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MINETO) in 1992, the
duties of which included, among others, the coordination of all environment related
activities carried out by different ministries.
It should also be pointed out that during the same year, Rwanda took part in the Rio
de Janeiro World Earth Summit and institutionalised the National Environment Week,
which was in addition to other initiatives such as the establishment of the Office
National de la Population (1981), the Tree Day (1980), the Water Day (22nd March),
the Meteorology Day (23rd March), the Biodiversity Day (22nd May), etc. 1992 was
marked by the drafting of the Law on Environment.
The 1994 genocide and massacres brought to a standstill the initiatives that had
been launched, and they were revived by the Government of National Union. It is in
this context that should be viewed the ratification of International Conventions such
a. Convention on Biological Diversity (1995);
b. United Nations Outline Convention on Climatic Changes (1998);
c. United Nations Convention on Desertification (1998);
d. Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (2001);
e. Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Polluting Agents (2002).
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (2003);
g. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (2003)
h. Convention on the Prior Informed Procedure for certain hazardous chemicals
and pesticides in international trade (2003)
Basel Convention on control of transboundary movements of hazardous
wastes and their disposal;
Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change;
In 1996, National Agenda 21 and the National Environment Strategy and Action Plan
were updated. Following the Government reshuffles of 28th March 1997 and 8th
February 1999, Environment was successively placed under the Ministry of
Agriculture, Animal Breeding, Environment and Rural Development and the current
Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Environment, the principal mission of which was
to formulate the policy and the law relating to the protection of Environment.
Moreover, in 2001, the Ministry was strengthened by the establishment of a Ministry
of State responsible for the Protection of Environment, which was operational from
August 2001 till 15th November 2002. The establishment of Rwanda Environment
Management Authority (REMA) is in the process of finalization. It will be the organ
responsible for the execution of environment-related policies and laws.
1.2 Environment and Vision 2020
The protection and management of environment are among the pillars of Vision
2020. The objective of the Government is that by 2020, it will have built a nation in
which pressure on natural resources, particularly on land, water, biomass and
biodiversity, has significantly been reduced and the process of environmental
pollution and degradation has been reversed; a nation in which the management and
protection of these resources and environment are more rational and well regulated
in order to preserve and bequeath to future generations the basic wealth necessary
for sustainable development.
With regard to the protection and management of natural resources and environment,
the aim of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda is to see, by 2020, the
percentage of households involved directly in primary agriculture reduced from 90%
to less than 50%; effective and updated regulations established which are adapted to
the protection of environment and sustainable management of natural resources; the
rate of diseases related to environmental degradation reduced by 60%; and the
share of wood in national energy balance reduced from 94% to 50%,
In the fulfillment of this objective, particular attention will be paid to the integration of
the environmental dimension in all educational, sensitization and development
policies and programmes and at all levels of decision making. This will entail also the
promotion of participation of grassroots communities in the management of
environment with special attention to women and the youth. All the initiatives will be
guided by the principles of generations and gender equality, precaution and polluter-
pays so as to clearly define and establish individual and collective responsibilities.
The application of laws and regulations, the adoption and dissemination of
environment friendly technologies will constitute a high priority for the central and
local authorities. Finally, regional and international cooperation will be promoted and
strengthened so as to contribute effectively to the protection and management of
Public institutions responsible for environmental protection and management will be
strengthened, and the role of the private sector and civil society will be well defined
and increased with a view to a more coordinated and harmonious action in favour of
1.3 Environmental management and poverty reduction
The fight against poverty relies on sustainable economic growth and it is worth
identifying the potential contribution of environment to this economic growth. Yet, the
exploitation of natural resources has a direct impact on the quality of environment.
The links between environmental degradation and poverty reduction have been well
established. In fact, the poor depend directly on resources and natural services for
their livelihood, and they are often affected by the degradation of environment,
particularly water and air pollution, exposure to toxic chemical products, etc.
Moreover, the poor are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters such floods,
drought in the east and south-east of the country, volcanic eruptions, as well as
conflicts related to natural resource control, especially land resources.
Nonetheless, poverty reduction cannot succeed without effective and real
consideration of the environmental dimension. It is for this reason that Environment is
one of the first priorities identified by the Poverty Reduction Strategy in Rwanda and
is among the leading fundamental programmes selected within agricultural
transformation and rural development.
Agricultural transformation and rural development must be accompanied by
environmental protection activities such as
earthworks, reforestation, water
management and rational use of wetlands. The Poverty Reduction Strategy
recommends also actions in the energy sector by promoting in a special way the
rational use of wood and the promotion of alternative sources of energy. It supports
water supply and actions likely to enhance rain water harvesting and utilization in
towns and “imidugudu” villages.
Chapter 2: RWANDA’S ENVIRONMENTAL FEATURES
In Rwanda, like everywhere else, Environment is divided in natural and human
environment, and is governed by a policy, institutional and legal framework with a
view to ensuring its functioning and its protection and management. Natural
environment comprises the soil and the subsoil, water resources, air, biological
diversity and landscape, sites and monuments, while human environment concerns
land-use management and living environment.
2.1 NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
2.1.1 Geophysical features
Rwanda’s physical environment can be explained partly by its geographical location
in the east of Central Africa between 1°04 and 2°51 latitude south, and between
28°45 and 31°15 longitude east. Stretching over a surface area of 26,338 km2 which
constitutes the bedrock of the local environment, the principal geographical elements
are particularly the relief, the soils, the climate, the vegetation and the hydrographic
Rwanda’s relief presents varieties. From east to west, the altitude varies between
1000 and 4500m. The setting of this relief is composed mainly in the east by
lowlands; in the centre by hills and in the west by high mountains.
a. The Congo-Nile Ridge: This is a range of mountains, with an altitude ranging
between 2500 and 3000m. Overhanging lake Kivu, it divides Rwanda’s waters
in two parts: those which flow into the Congo basin in the west, and those
which flow into the Nile in the east. The Congo-Nile Ridge is dominated in the
northwest by the volcanoes range which consists of five massifs, the highest
of which is Kalisimbi with an altitude of 4507m.
b. The Central Plateau: With an altitude ranging between 2000 and 1500m, the
central plateau’s relief is made of hills with tops that are sometimes stretched,
sometimes round, separated by deep valleys of 50 to 15m, often filled up with
c. The lowlands of the East: The lowlands are dominated by a depression of the
relief, generally undulating between 1500 and 1100m of altitude.
d. The lowlands of the South West in the plain of Bugarama: This is part of a
tectonic depression of the African Rift, and it has an altitude of 900m.
Rwanda enjoys a temperate continental tropical climate. The thermal rhythm is
relatively consistent. In the course of the year, temperatures vary between 16° and
17°C in the high altitude region, between 18° and 21°C in the Central Plateau, and
between 20° and 24°C in the lowlands of the East and West. Annual rainfall varies
between 700mm and 1400mm in the lowlands of the East and West, between
1200mm and 1400mm in the Central Plateau, and between 1400mm and 2000mm in
the high altitude region.
The rainfall regime has a strong influence on the hydrological regime. There are
floods during the long rainy season from March to May, and they subside during the
long dry season of June to September.
Rwanda has increasingly been experiencing long periods of drought which tend to
become cyclical and persistent, particularly in the East and South East. These
climatic changes may have a direct relationship with those recorded in the world due
particularly to the global warming of the planet.
Rwanda has an abundant water system situated on either side of two hydrographical
basins, namely the Congo and the Nile basins. The Congo basin consists of
insignificant and short rivers which flow into Lake Kivu. The Rusizi river is its outflow
into Lake Kivu. Its principal tributary, the Ruhwa, marks the border between Rwanda
and Burundi in the western part of their common border, while the Sebeya in the
north flows into Lake Kivu at Gisenyi.
The Nile basin covers the greatest part of the country. Most rivers, namely the
Nyabarongo and the Akanyaru with their numerous tributaries form, downstream from
Lake Rweru, the river Akagera. They are closely associated with vast marshes and
numerous shallow lakes found along these rivers.
The vegetation varies according to the relief and the distribution of the rainfall. There
is a whole plant diversity from the dense forests in the West to the semi-arid
savannah of the East.
2.1.2 Natural resources and Biodiversity
184.108.40.206 Soil and subsoil
In Rwanda, land is a resource of inestimable value. It occupies a first-rate place in
the national economy since farming employs more than 90% of the working
population and contributes about 93% of exports. However, out of a surface area of
26,338 km2, 52% only is usable, representing approximately 1,385,000 hectares.
Marshes suitable for agriculture would add to this about 165,000 hectares. Land is
therefore a limited hence coveted resource.
In 1998, the cultivated area was estimated at 825,000 hectares, representing 60% of
the land suitable for cultivation. At the moment, the cultivable area available for each
family is about 0.60 ha per household, and this leads to overfarming and often
misuse of land, with the harmful consequences on land resource and environment in
Rwanda’s pedology is characterised by six types of soil: