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Water for everyone

Annual rainfall is relatively high in Rwanda, but it’s not evenly distributed, so not everyone has good access to water. Also, the rainy seasons are becoming increasingly unreliable, short and more intense, bringing either heavy downpours and flooding that wash away the fertile topsoil on which people rely to grow crops, or drought.

Project Water for Growth, Rwanda

ClientGovernment of the Netherlands

ExpertiseProject management

Water for Growth was an integrated water resources management (IWRM) programme to help Rwanda better protect, conserve and manage its land and water resources – and support sustainable socio-economic development and improved livelihoods. Equitable, efficient and environmentally sustainable water resources management was the goal.

Catchment and water allocation plans were developed for priority river basins, covering about a third of Rwanda. These are designed to balance the needs of different water users, improve water quality, and physically restore catchment areas by controlling soil erosion and putting in place mitigation measures, such as afforestation and buffer zones, to conserve water and soil and minimise flooding. Installing rainwater harvesting tanks was one of several initiatives to support people through droughts.

Water, energy and food are integral and interdependent, and the catchment plans developed through Water for Growth were designed to address this ‘nexus’ and sustain livelihoods, human wellbeing, and socio-economic development. The introduction of improved agricultural practices helped to combat soil degradation, leading to less soil erosion and fewer landslides, as well as higher crop yields.

Equitable access to water resources was a key target for Water for Growth, with gender equality also a priority because women’s livelihoods in Rwanda depend more than men on natural resources, such as the land and forests. To ensure gender needs were included in catchment plans and projects, women were encouraged to participate in their development. Overall, female participation in the catchment planning process was 31% – just above the 30% national target for participation set by the government.

Water for drinking is the number one priority for Rwanda, but sources can become polluted – from mining, pit latrines and pesticide runoff from agriculture. A national water quality survey for Water for Growth found that almost all surface waters had high levels of suspended sediment. The protection of water sources to improve quality was a key component of IWRM.

Droughts and floods inflict high costs and can disrupt economic and social life. Flooding can damage homes,  disrupt hydropower plants, pollute drinking water and wash away valuable topsoil. Droughts also put energy supplies at risk by reducing flow to hydropower plants, while food becomes scarcer as crops fail. The Water for Growth IWRM toolkit included flood and drought management plans, reforestation, agroforestry and soil and water conservation measures.

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