The geography of risk in Rwanda

Mar 5, 2015

UNDP is helping Rwanda boost resilience to disasters and the effects of climate change. PHOTO: UNdP Rwanda

Rwanda is susceptible to a wide range of disaster threats, including floods, droughts, strong storms and volcanic eruptions. In the past two decades, some 2 million people have been affected by these and other climate-induced hazards—hazards that will only increase as the effects of climate change grow both in frequency and scale. According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation (ND-GAIN) Index, Rwanda is the world’s thirteenth most vulnerable country to climate change.

But Rwanda has begun taking important steps toward making itself more resilient. Since 2013 the Government is partnering with UNDP on a project to build national and local capacities for Disaster Risk Management to better address disaster and climate threats.

One component of that project is a sorely needed disaster risk profile created by The Risk Atlas Project. Led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), The Risk Atlas Project has spent the last two years conducting a comprehensive assessment of existing risks at the national and local level. The assessment collected baseline data and information on topics such as demography, land cover, climate and facilities, and will, hopefully, generate a clear picture of the vulnerabilities across the landlocked country.

Set to launch this April, The Disaster Risk Atlas provides important recommendations for improving Rwanda’s disaster risk management. Among the recommendations: implement hazard mitigation measures like water retention and irrigation methods for drought-prone areas; introduce more sustainable approaches to land use planning; and institute early warning systems, contingency plans, and pre-disaster recovery plans.

Aware of limited in-country technical capacities, the project builds disaster risk reduction capacities by using a ‘learning by doing’ approach that ensures participants acquire valuable knowledge and skills that can be put to use long after the project’s completion.

The assessment covers all 30 districts in Rwanda, allowing authorities in each district to benefit from training and capacity building on risk assessment and mapping. A National Technical Advisory Group and the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction—made up of technical focal points from various ministries, UN agencies, NGOs and government institutions—were also trained in risk assessment tools and methodologies.

"We should be proud of the innovative dimensions of the Risk Atlas Project,” says Lamin Manneh, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Rwanda.  “We ensured that local expertise is fully utilized in this process and could also be drawn upon by other regions in Africa.”

Indeed, the project has a strong South-South cooperation component. It engages regional institutions—like the Volcanic Observatory of Goma (Democratic Republic of the Congo), the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (Kenya), and the Nile Basin Initiative/Nile Equatorial Subsidiary Action Program—to exchange data, tools, and methodologies.

Rwandan officials plan to use the project’s findings to inform national and district policy planning, as well as to identify climate-vulnerable livelihoods, hazard-prone areas and negative changes in ecosystems. By identifying these and other issues, officials can take the actions necessary to make those livelihoods climate resilient, to help those hazard-prone areas adapt to the affects of climate change and to reverse the degradation of those ecosystems.

“The development of the Risk Atlas will provide sufficient information on disaster risks across the country,” says Seraphine Mukantabana, a MIDIMAR official. “[The Risk Atlas] will serve as a sound basis for coordinating and strengthening early warning systems in the country and contributing to disaster risk-proofing and development planning at all levels”.

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