That period of time which raises red flag for households in fragile houses, especially from Rwanda’s steep slopes and/or in marshland is knocking.
The rainy season which covers the last quarter of the Year-September-December according to Rwanda’s weather forecast is back and, predictions have it that the season could be much severer than previous seasons, with a combined 800 millimetres in some areas.
The city of Kigali which recorded several cases of fatalities caused by floods and landslides in the past is particularly aware that the worst might happen if precautions are not taken.
On top of that, Vice Mayor in charge of Socio-Economic Affairs in the City of Kigali Urujeni Martine in an exclusive interview last week, said that the floods that killed more than 100 people in the Western and Northern Province in May, cannot allow them to sit back.
“We were warned that given the severity of the rain, even in Kigali we may see similar fatalities soon, should we take the matter lightly,” she said.
Reinforcing a program that started way back in 2016 to relocate people in high risk zones, the city identified 7361 households that are meant to vacate. In May this year 4230 of them relocated while another 3131 families have until September 15, to save their lives.
Affected by the decision include city dwellers on hills with more than 50% steep slopes which, according to the vice mayor are not meant for residence, but for forestation.
Others are dwellers on 30%-50% steep slopes, places that can accommodate residential houses with durable materials and special construction requirements that make a house much stronger.
“You will realise that in either category, the houses were mainly built in light materials, without construction permits,” Urujeni said referring to some places like Mukiderenka-Gisozi, Gasabo district, Kimisagara in Nyarugenge and others.
Another category that is meant to vacate is the people within 20 meters of marshland, who, according to Urujeni, were warned since long ago.
“You know the rain is becoming severer and you can see it from our rivers, and marshlands when it rains-inundations are increasing from a rainy season to another. We cannot take it lightly when it comes to saving our people’s lives,” Urujeni said.
“We cannot afford to lose a life to disasters.”
Also meant to vacate are the people near water canals-ruhurura, who are within 5 meters and those in the proximity of former quarry sites that need to be rehabilitated with reforestation.
The city of Kigali allows the category of those on tolerable steep slopes to explore available options, including; selling their plots to those that are able to develop them, or to build them in accordance with city master plan if they have financial capacity.
They can also come together and sell a bigger plot to a real estate developer who can build bigger facilities that can accommodate the proprietors and have more space for more clients, like the case of Mpazi business project in Cyahafi.
Urujeni agrees that in several instances, the city dwellers who built in these risky areas were to some extent, shielded by some local leaders, but this does not make the city liable of the mistakes.
“If a local leader is corrupt, he would be individually answerable. We always warn people to denounce such leaders, otherwise we can only intervene to support an individual person on social ground, not because they connived with a local leader to make mistakes,” she said.
Affected people speak out
Going in different neighbourhoods, especially those in steep slopes, the mark X or simple a Swahili word Towa which means ‘remove’ is common. It’s a warning that the house should be removed.
Since the last 29 years, Ndagijiama Thierry, is a resident of Hanika Village, Nyamabuye cell in Gatsata sector of Gasabo district where he built a house and sheltered his family.
He also has to vacate within the set deadline, to make sure that he complies with city of Kigali instruction, which seeks to “save lives.”
He said that leaving a place you called home for three decades is not an easy thing.
“We would love to go, but, considering that we have land titles according which, these are residential areas, the government should treat us with expropriation fees,” he said.
“We believe that the national budget can afford a place for us.”
Residents like Ndagijimana claim that they have lived in this area for several years now, without harm and do not believe that this time around, things have changed and the rainy season, much severer with climate change.
They don’t believe that a danger can surprise them as it was the case in some areas in the near past.
Judith Uwantege, a mother of four who has lived in Gatsata for the last 10 years shares this view.
“Moving a family requires thorough preparations. It’s not easy to execute because we actually fear that the next place we go to, may also be treated as high risk in future,” she said.
“In the last ten years have been safe. If anything happens here, it can happen even there. I propose that they give us authorisation for rehabilitation of our houses so that they can meet standards one side,” she said.
“On the other side, the government can reinforce the fight against erosion on our hills so that we can remain in our place.”
Uwantege said that her small house is the only thing to call home because she came to the city after selling everything back in her village.