Extreme Weather in RwandaAt the beginning of May 2023, heavy rainfall across East Africa led to flash flooding across the region, most destructively in Rwanda and Uganda. At least 130 people died because of extreme weather in Rwanda, while the chaos displaced entire villages. As a small but mountainous and landlocked region, Rwanda has a very dense population, increasing the number of those affected by the disaster.

Extreme Weather Changes

Rwanda and surrounding nations frequently suffer from the consequences of extreme weather changes. In 2019, 265 people died and tens of thousands had to leave their homes after two months of continuous rainfall. This event affected 2 million people across Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Then in May 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was tearing through communities across the world, Rwanda suffered 65 deaths and Kenya at least 194 after yet another period of heavy rainfall. More recently, in April 2023, at least 14 people died in southern Ethiopia, when a similar pattern of heavy rain triggered floods and landslides. Alongside fatalities, this destroyed crucial livestock and devastated numerous homes. Now, only a month later, a climate disaster once again struck Rwanda and its neighbors.

Damage in the Region

Damage by the extreme rainfall and consequential flash-flooding has not only led to the loss of lives but also the destruction of more than 5,000 homes, 17 roads, 26 bridges and an entire hospital, according to DW. West Africa experienced similar levels of rainfall, with several storms occurring across parts of Sierra Leone. The flash flooding that followed washed numerous cars and tore buildings apart. A collapsing wall killed six people and another 10 died when a house collapsed during a landslide.

The loss of crops and livestock completely disrupted livelihoods because many people rely on farming to provide food for their families. In an agricultural-based economy that employs 65% of the population, the erosion of land is hugely consequential for the Rwandan people. Extreme weather in Rwanda is not only responsible for the destruction of the environment but also the biodiversity. According to DW, every year, torrential rain causes a loss of almost 600 million tons of soil with the impact being most severe on sloping croplands, which can lead to famine.

The Role of Climate Change

The increasing “frequency and intensity” of extreme weather in Rwanda and across Africa is one of the reasons for a breakdown of the climate, most notably the rate at which the planet is getting hotter, according to The Guardian. Deputy regional director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Africa, Richard Munang agreed, stating that rising temperatures are causing the number of natural disasters to rapidly increase. According to Munang, the planet has warmed to 1.1 degrees Celsius. But even worse, Africa is warming up at double the speed of the rest of the world, DW reports.

In a UNDP report, disasters brought about as a direct result of climate change between 2000 and 2023 have increased by 134%. As a region vulnerable to floods and landslides, Rwanda is a country particularly susceptible to the consequences of the planet getting alarmingly warmer. Because of its inability to adapt to these extreme weather conditions, recovery from such events is even more challenging.

Described as “one of the most climate-impacted nations on Earth,” according to DW, Rwanda has suffered significant fatalities and hundreds of people have been displaced because of flooding and landslides. There is a direct link, therefore, between the rate of global warming and the increasing frequency of extreme weather in Rwanda. Some have proposed relocating vulnerable communities to areas less prone to floods, but whilst this may help in the short term, it does not address the severe issue of climate change, which is only getting worse with time.

Relief Efforts Within Rwanda

After the most recent episode of rainfall and flooding, the Government of Rwanda has implemented a major relief effort, with provisions for temporary shelter, emergency supplies, clean water and health care services. Rwandan Prime Minister, Edouard Ngirente, led a delegation comprising several cabinet ministers and the Inspector General of Police, with which he visited affected regions. In doing so, he reassured residents of government support and relief efforts. In the immediate aftermath, the government established a command center in an attempt to coordinate the response effort and distribute household items such as bedding and clothes.

According to Rwanda’s minister in charge of emergency management, Marie-Solange Kayisire, relief efforts began straight away where volunteers helped bury victims and provided supplies to those who lost their homes, The Guardian reports.

Green Gicumbi Project and the Red Cross

Located in the highlands of Northern Rwanda, the Green Gicumbi Project works among communities to put flood and drought resistance measures in place. In doing so, it has built terraces and storage for water during periods of drought, and this is “rapidly transforming the landscape,” according to DW. Moreover, after funding from the Paris Climate Agreement’s Green Climate Fund, the Rwandan Government was able to transform an arid wasteland into a climate-resilient agricultural region.

The Red Cross also aided relief efforts following the floods, with photographs showing local farmers perched on steep hillsides digging through the mud in an attempt to find those buried in their homes.

Looking forward

Despite the devastating impact of extreme weather events in Rwanda and East Africa, there are positive signs of resilience and relief efforts. The Rwandan government has swiftly responded with a major relief effort, providing temporary shelter, emergency supplies, clean water and health care services to affected communities. Projects like the Green Gicumbi Project, focusing on flood and drought resistance measures, and the support from organizations like the Red Cross are also making a difference in building climate resilience and aiding recovery efforts. While there is still room for progress and additional alleviatory measure, these initiatives highlight the determination and resourcefulness of the Rwandan people in the face of climate-related challenges.

– Bethan Marsden

Photo: flickr