Rwanda faces other green challenges after plastic bag ban
Soaring population growth and the use of traditional farming methods that erode soil are its main environmental challenges.
Sat, Jun 05, 2010 at 12:13 PM
BANNED BAGS: Rwanda passed a law banning the manufacture, use, import and sale of polythene bags in 2008. (Photo: Wayne Barbe/iStockphoto)
Rwanda has successfully banned plastic bags, but the tiny central African country, which Saturday led celebrations to mark World Environment Day events, faces several other green challenges.
Rwanda is justifiably proud of having succeeded in banning one environmental hazard — one of the factors that led the United Nations to choose it to lead the global events marking World Environment Day.
"Many countries in the region have a lot to learn from Rwanda when it comes to environmental protection. The fact that there are no plastic bags anywhere in town surprised me," Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said on Rwandan national radio.
As recently as five years ago, no Rwandan family would have envisaged life without the small cheap black plastic bags used for all shopping and errands.
The poorest of the poor would use them as travel or school bags. They littered the streets, blocked the drains and streams and rendered plots of land impossible to cultivate.
"A real environmental disaster," said Rwanda's Environment Minister Stanislas Kamanzi, highlighting the bags' "very negative impact on soils, on the environment in general and on urban zones in particular where they cause serious problems with water infiltration."
Faced with such a dire situation "bold solutions" were required to "change very old habits", the minister said.
A law banning the manufacture, use, import and sale of polythene bags was passed in September 2008.
"It took us some time," said a Kigali home maker who gave her name only as Blandina.
"But when we saw that for the government there was no going back," we started to apply the law. Today it has borne fruit: I can easily channel rainwater and grow vegetables on my little town plot," she told AFP.
The authorities got the population to use the monthly obligatory communal work session, known locally as umuganda to collect all the plastic bags lying around or buried.
Kamanzi said Rwanda now has to figure out the best way of recycling the massive stocks collected.
But that's not the only environmental challenge the country faces.
Soaring population growth on a tiny surface area, much of which is mountainous, and the use of traditional farming methods which cause soil erosion are the main causes of environmental degradation.
Population growth was 2.56 percent in 2009 with population density at almost 400 people per square kilometre.
"There are well thought-out multi-sector strategies in place. They will help us deal with the issue," Kamanzi said.
"We are committed irrevocably to modernizing agriculture and we've come a long way with putting in place anti-erosion measures everywhere they are required," he said.
"All that will just be a drop in the ocean if Rwandans don't manage to limit the birth rate," said a young university professor Claude Rwasibo.
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition