Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4
Article Number: jws2018003
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REVIEW ON WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT AND KEY THREATS IN
RWANDA, EAST AFRICA
Valentine Mukanyandwia, b, c, *, Lamek Nahayoa, b, c, Egide Hakorimanaa, b, c,
Aboubakar Gasiraboa, b, c, Shinebayar Otgona, b
a,* Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 818 South Beijing Road, Urumqi
830011, Xinjiang, China. E-mail: email@example.com
b University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
c University of Lay Adventists of Kigali, Kigali, Rwanda.
Submitted 06 July 2018; accepted 17 November 2018
Abstract. Water is important for human health, industry, agriculture and ensuring the integrity and sustainability of the
ecosystem. The water resources are the top affected by climate variability and population growth. The current population
of Rwanda is about 12 million heading to about 25 million in 2050 under the changing climate, where since 1970
temperature rose by 1.4°C and is predicted that in 2050 to be about 2.5°C with severe effects on water resources in
Rwanda. Thereby, this study reviewed the status and causes of water quality problems and suggested appropriate options
to undertake for sustainable water resources access, employ and management in Rwanda. It was noticed that among
others, the key threats to water quality in Rwanda, include not limited to climate change causing rainfall patterns which
generated flooding, landslides and periodic droughts, which loaded pollutants into water. In addition, water quality is
jeopardized by the rapid population growth, agrochemicals, industrialization, urbanization, soil steepness and land
mismanagement. Accordingly, the reviewed water quality indicate that the water quality pollution likelihood is increasing
over time. These facts reveal that the water quality soon or late will be highly polluted and calls for further adaptation and
Keywords: climate change, population growth, water resource, water quality, Rwanda.
Water is the most important for human health,
agriculture, industry and in ensuring the integrity and
sustainability of the ecosystem. Most parts of the world,
particularly poor regions face water scarcity, pollution
and lack of mitigation and adaptation capabilities
(Muhirwa et al., 2010; Piao et al., 2010). The world
population considerably grew after the industrial
revolution, from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 6.08 billion in
2000, heading to about 9.7 and 11.2 billion by 2050 and
2100, respectively (Akresh et al., 2011). Therefore,
balancing the available water and its growing needs,
mainly driven by population growth and the changing
climate can be a good alternative for water resources
management (Kiptum, Sang, 2017).
In Rwanda, water resources are basic to many
sectors including power generation, agriculture and
fishery. Nevertheless, water resources are the top affected
by climate variability and population growth (Arsiso et
al., 2017; Vörösmarty et al., 2000; Piao et al., 2010).
Observable and potential effects of climate change on
water resources in Rwanda include flooding, landslides,
change in the periodic droughts (Urama, Ozor, 2010;
Bizimana, Sönmez, 2015).
Hydrology of Rwanda
Description of the study area
Rwanda occupies a surface of 26,338 km2 on the eastern
shoulder of the Kivu-Tanganyika Rift in Africa. It lies
between 1°4' and 2°51' south latitude and 28°53' and
30°53' east longitude (Karamage et al., 2016). Rwanda
has two rainy seasons; the first begins from March to
May and the last begin from October to November with
an average rainfall of 110-200 mm per month. The first
and short dry season starts from December to the end of
February, while the longer one lasts from June to early
September. Rwanda’s average temperature ranges
between 19 to 27°C (Abimbola et al., 2017, Nahayo et
al., 2016, Ndayisaba et al., 2016).
Rwanda is made up of five administrative
subdivisions locally known as provinces (Northern,
Southern Eastern and Western Province and Kigali City,
the capital); each province is further subdivided into five
to eight districts (Fig. 1).
Rwanda is relatively rich in water resources; about
188,190 ha are occupied by lakes (Table 1 and figure 1);
approximately 7,260 ha are for rivers, while wetlands
seize an approximate area are 77,000 ha. The surface
water generally has a pH ranging between 6 and 8
(Nsengimana et al., 2012; Cavallo et al., 2013). This
expresses that Rwanda has many water resources being
lakes, rivers and marshlands.
However, rapid population growth, cropland
expansion and agrochemicals, inappropriate household
and industrial wastewater management and rainfall
harvest, insufficient water quality monitoring and few
researches along with soil topography (steep slope) that
facilitate the sediments and nutrients transport into
watershed are the major water pollutants in Rwanda
(Fidèle et al., 2015; Sekomo et al., 2011; Wronski et al.,
2015; Mupenzi et al., 2009).
Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4, jws2018003
Fig.1. Water resources network of Rwanda.
Table 1. Rwanda major lakes and their characteristics (International..., 2018)
Surface area in
above sea level, m
Burera and Ruhondo
These phenomena have multiple repercussions on
the quantity and quality of water, like reducing the river
flows and lake levels, drying up of some water sources
and undermining water biodiversity. Therefore, this
expresses the problem of water quality in Rwanda despite
its abundance and calls for appropriate adaptation
Thereby, the objectives of this study review are to
indicate status and causes of water quality problems and
suggest appropriate options to undertake for sustainable
water quality access, use and management in Rwanda.
Trends in water quality in Rwanda
Climate change and population growth is the most
considerable factors that are affecting the ecosystems
consequently, the impact of climate change on water
quality is ascribed to changing hydrology and air
temperature (Hosseini et al., 2017; Liu, Chan, 2016). The
water quality in Rwanda is being exposed to several
degrading and polluting forces being natural and man-
made. Previous reports on the water physico-chemical
parameters and heavy metals (Nahayo et al., 2016;
Usanzineza et al., 2011; Mupenzi et al., 2009; Muhirwa
et al., 2010; Uwimpuhwe et al., 2014) estimated low pH
level 5.9 at the Nyabugogo River compared to the
standards of the World Health Organization and
European Union (pH 6.0-8.0). Moreover, the total
suspended solids of the Rweru-Mugesera wetland, Congo
and Nile basins (Rwandan side), 67.91, 920.90 and
162.86 mg/l, respectively, were above the standards (˂30
mg/l). Whilst, the estimated concentration of Iron,
Manganese and Lead were higher in the Lake Muhazi,
Cyohoha, Akagera Transboundary and Nyabugogo rivers
(Sekomo et al., 2011; Nshimiyimana et al., 2010). The
below table 2 represents the average of heavy metal
pollution of water sources analyzed by Water and
Sanitation Corporation Limited (WASAC Ltd) of
Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4, jws2018003
Table 2. Averaged heavy metals in comparison with WHO
Standard (Nahayo et al., 2018).
According to the drinking water quality standards of
the World Health Organization, recent study on drinking
water quality (See Table 2) which analysed heavy metals
pollution in the Eastern province showed that drinking
water is mainly polluted during rainy season.
This exposes consumers to several risks as far as
some parameters like manganese and iron values are
higher than WHO suggested standards for drinking water
quality. Consequently, this may cause cancer, liver, heart
and pancreatic to consumers. This is congruent with the
report of Sekomo et al. (2011) which indicates that
drinking water sources are more polluted during rainy
season than dry season where sediments and other wastes
easily load into waters.
The assessment on microbiological water quality in
Kigali city, the capital of Rwanda (Table 3) revealed the
presence of Klebsiella, Enterobacter, Staphylococcus and
Escherichia coli in river water and ground water
(Uwimpuhwe et al., 2014; Rutanga, 2014; Nigatu et al.,
2015). Although the drinking water seems polluted, the
Government of Rwanda through her Ministry of health
recommends citizens to drink boiled water and use of
Sûr’Eau (water purification product, commonly used in
Rwanda) in order to minimize the pollution resulting
risks from the water being consumed. While bench
terraces are used on steep slope land to minimize the
runoff which transports pollutants into water sources.
Table 3. Microbiological analysis (Rutanga, 2014)
Type of Sample
(+) P – presence; (-) A –absence.
In addition, Kivu lake, the biggest lake of Rwanda
as previously reported (Mupenzi et al., 2017) gets it
source from 23 Rwandan rivers drain into the Lake Kivu.
These rivers are polluted at different scale, where those
rivers near by the forestland are less polluted than those
which move around farmland. In addition, the water
quality in Rwanda, as previously reported highlighted
(Habiyaremye et al., 2011; Bendito, Twomlow, 2015;
Karamage et al., 2017; Mupenzi et al., 2017) is
threatened by the rapid population growth,
agrochemicals, steepness of Rwandan soil and land
mismanagement, climate variability together with lack of
proper rainfall harvest which leads to sediments transport
and consequently pollute the water quality. This
expresses that the water quality soon or late will be
highly polluted and calls for further adaptation and
Population growth in Rwanda
Population is the one of the fundamental elements of
sustainable development but also the vulnerability to
water resources. The reports of the United Nations
(Gerland et al., 2014) and National Institute of Statistics
of Rwanda (National…, 2014) indicate that both
Rwandan rural and urban population rapidly grew. The
current population is about 12,501,156 with population
density of 474.64 per kilometer square and it is projected
to be about 28 million in 2095 (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Rwandan population growth (from 1950 to 2095)
This rapid population growth is assigned to high
fertility, culture and illiteracy along with refugees who
came back from neighboring countries after the 1994
Genocide. Moreover, it is worthy noted that, population
growth is correspondingly associated with water demand
for daily uses such as bathing, cooking and other socio-
economic development activities requiring water such as
agriculture, industry, public utilities, etc. The following
table 4 illustrates how water demand in urban will be
increasing compared to rural settings.
Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4, jws2018003
Table 4. Water demand per settlements in Rwanda between
2012 and 2040 (l/home/day) (Consultancy…, 2014)
This, additionally can be associated to previous
reports (Majaliwa et al., 2012; Cavallo et al., 2013) on
water resources exploitation in Rwanda, indicating that
all available water resources (ground and surface water)
including rainfall are not fully exploited, meaning that the
higher rural to urban migration, the higher water demand,
and this implies more investments for maximum
available water use; otherwise, the available water
resources might be subject to overexploitation and
degradation due to increasing demand.
Urbanization and industrialization
The report of the United Nation (UN, 2014) indicates that
the world urban dwellers grew from 746 million in 1950
to 3.9 billion in 2014 and will surpass six billion in 2045.
Much of this planned urban expansion will take place in
developing areas, particularly Africa. However, these
urban dwellers’ water demand and the source of water
used are still unknown (McDonald et al., 2014, Barthel,
Banzhaf, 2016). Moreover, estimates show that 22% of
the world water is used by industries, while their
improper wastewater management is polluting water
quality (Chae et al., 2015; Ouyang et al., 2006; Maharjan
et al., 2016). This lack of proper determination of water
sources used and improper wastes management affects its
quantity and quality management.
The total population of Kigali, the capital city of
Rwanda, gradually grew from 357 in 1907 to 236,000
inhabitants in 1991 and reached 1,000,000 and 1.132
million in 2010 and 2012 respectively (National…,
2014). This however, affects the municipal wastes
management due to informal settlements, expansion of
the city and industrialization whose final results is water
quality degradation and pollution as well (Mohammed et
al., 2017; Uwimbabazi, Lawrence, 2011). Despite the
present Governmental initiative (which is not yet fully
completed) of re-allocating industries from or near
watersheds to appropriate and well equipped location
(Rwanda Special Economic Zone), their former location
led to immense wetland and biodiversity degradation
(Etale, Drake, 2013; Nhapi et al., 2011). In addition, the
report of the Kigali City Conceptual Master Plan
(Kigali…, 2007) indicates that the city will keep
expanding in size and its inhabitants will almost triple in
the next 25 years. For this fact, it is good to envisage
appropriate municipal wastewater treatment facilities and
adaptive measures for the water quality enhancement.
In Rwanda, agriculture employs about 80% of the total
population. This sector encountered a decline due to the
1994 Genocide, and this caused many socio-economic
failures (Lovell, Tumuri, 1999). However, as indicated by
the report of Organization & UNICEF in 2015 after the
1994 Genocide, high food demand-imposed cropland
expansion from 13,150 to 18,425 km2 in 1990 and 2013,
respectively, growing crops at appropriate and productive
area (Crop Intensification Program, CIP) with selected
seeds and fertilizers which increased from 6,537 tons in
2000 to 44,264 tons in 2012. However, despite this
agricultural progress, its practices are reported to pollute
the watersheds (Falkenmark, 2013; Sekomo et al., 2011).
Furthermore, Rwandan agriculture is subsistence,
and farmers own small plot land cultivated for household
consumption and mostly located near or in watersheds.
Additionally, a large cropland is on steep slope soils,
easily exposed to erosion, floods and landslides which are
major soil and water quality problems in Rwanda
(Bizoza, 2014; Nahayo et al., 2017; Rugigana et al.,
2013). Moreover, marshland over-exploitation, high
volumes of agrochemicals, and lack of approach to
farmers on appropriate and timely fertilizers’ application
are leading to watersheds degradation and pollution
(Bucagu et al., 2013; Fidèle et al., 2015). Therefore, as
water quality management is concerned under rising food
demand, agriculture-environmentally friendly practices
need to be envisaged for water quality management in
Rwanda. In addition, as illustrated in figure 3, the
periodical change on personal prediction land, it
predicted that in 2050 one person will use only 0.10 ha.
Fig.3. Change on individual land per decade in Rwanda (UN,
This expresses that the food demand will be rare
same as the water resources will be affected by
insufficient area to cultivate.
Climate change in Rwanda
The changing climate in Rwanda extant very serious
national challenges and risks transversely various sectors
such as agriculture and water resources.The report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
indicates that the climate is changing; the global average
temperature is rising with shifting rainfall patterns,
whereas the glaciers, arctic sea ice and Greenland ice
sheet are melting, primarily due to greenhouse gases
emitted in the atmosphere (Mahmood et al., 2016; Myhre
et al., 2013). It is predicted that warm sea temperature
and less precipitation may increase drought and
desertification in the subtropical and equatorial Eastern
Africa and consequently, these alterations will seriously
Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4, jws2018003
impact on the quantity and quality of water, economy,
food security and social welfare of poor countries mainly
the Sub-Saharan countries including Rwanda. The
following figures 4 and 5 details the projected changes in
temperature and rainfall in Rwanda.
Fig. 4. Projected temperature patterns and rainfall in Rwanda
adopted from (Isidoro, Grattan, 2011).
As shown in figure 4, in Rwanda, as evidenced by
the Kamembe, Gisenyi, Kigali and Ruhengeri weather
stations, there is a mixture of both low and high
temperature records in the future. These numbers in
figure 4 are congruent with the reports of (Houghton et
al., 2001) and (Uzamukunda, 2015) that highlight that
Rwanda recorded a 1.4°C rise in temperature since 1970,
which is predicted to be about 2.5°C in 2050, and this
will lead to change in intensity and frequency of rainfall
causing either drought or flood, which in turn alter the
Fig. 5. Precipitation prediction at different sites in Rwanda from
2010 to 2099 (Haggag et al., 2016).
As indicated in figure 5, a precipitation trend is
obvious from almost 1 to 1.29% of increase within the
years of 2010 and 2099. This as a result, is being
experienced in Rwanda, where some regions are under
water shortage causing its quality depletion and socio-
economic failure, while others register high precipitation
which generates flooding and transport of sediments into
water with pollution and eutrophication likelihood. As far
as climate change is impacting on water resources and
other associated socio-economic impact (Veraart et al.,
2017) there is great call in developing appropriate
mechanisms including mitigation and adaptation policies,
awareness and skilled human resources able to combat
and deal with the impact of climate change on water
Conclusion and Recommendations
Water quality and scarcity are widespread problems and
its sustainable management is becoming a quite
challenge. Even though a range of resolving suggestions
have been provided such as provision of investment in
water infrastructure maintenance, water reuse, recycle,
flotation, chemical precipitation, ion exchange and
membrane filtration and coagulation-flocculation, the
rapid human population growth, increase on point and
non-point water pollution sources are threats to water
The government of Rwanda has launched the
Integrated Water Resources Management, an approach of
developing, monitoring and managing water resources.
Nonetheless, for the policy to be fruitful and sustainable
there is a great need of managing the wastewater, the
rapid expanding urbanization and informal settlements,
industrial and mining activities. Therefore, the followings
are suggested for the water quality management in
Rwanda under the above-mentioned threats:
1. Rapid population growth is increasingly leading to
natural resources degradation; it is advised to set a
fixed number of children per family with penalties or
tax incentives to those disregarding the policy.
2. Since Rwanda is rich in precipitation throughout the
year, it is good to consider maximum rain harvest;
this will increase the underground storage and
enables local communities to supply water to their
infrastructure and reduces sediments carried into
3. Population growth requires sufficient food, to do so,
irrigation is proposed to boost the agricultural
production, however, it is good to first check on
environmental pros and cons of every irrigation
technique (sprinkler and flood irrigation, drip
irrigation) before use.
4. Rwanda as a developing country with high water
demand, water re-use and desalination would help
much, where industrial, saline water and household
wastewater can be turned into usable water for other
uses such as garden watering, carwash, toilet uses.
This will be a good option and reduce the wastewater
5. It is suggested to promote environmental research
and education from basic schools; hydrological data
sharing and free access for water quality
6. Although the government prioritized Crop
Intensification Program (CIP), with one crop at
appropriate location, it would be good to initiate and
promote break crop system, different crops at once,
Journal of Water Security, 2018, Vol. 4, jws2018003
this will enhance soil fertility and maintain soil at a
level of not demanding high chemical fertilizers, and
reduces water pollution.
7. Even though, environmental management is a cross
cutting issue at every decision-making level,
monitoring and evaluation of its execution and
success basing on community’s reality and national
development plans is highly suggested
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