- At least 14 people have died and thousands others made homeless after heavy rains caused flooding in northern Rwanda, police spokesman Insp Willy Marcel Higiro said.
The worst-affected areas were in Rulindo District, 45 km north of the capital, Kigali. Also hard hit was the Gakenke trading centre in Rulindo, he told IRIN on Friday.
The police, who carried out an assessment of the flood damage, found that two of the dead were soldiers who drowned after their vehicle was swept away and that tens of others had been reported missing. At least 36 homes were destroyed.
Rulindo’s mayor, Justas Kangwage, said the floods submerged at least 5,000 homes, displacing more than 2,000 people. Up to 3,000 hectares of farmland was submerged, he added, forcing farmers to seek refuge on higher plains.
The displaced have sought refuge in the high-altitude area of Nyakina, near Gakenke trading centre. The Rwanda National Red Cross and a specialised unit of the Rwandan police have provided relief aid for the displaced, distributing food, bedding, medical aid and domestic utensils.
A resident of Rulindo, who requested anonymity, blamed local authorities for failing to alert the public on how to protect themselves against natural disasters such as floods.
"The administrative authorities were aware of the possible occurrence of this disaster, because it occurs annually," he said. "Even when the disaster comes, there has been negligence by our administration to consolidate the coordination of rescue activities to evacuate vulnerable people, such as children and old people."
However, the State Minister for Lands, Environment and Forestry, Patricia Hajabakiga, told a news conference in Kigali that the government would evacuate all people with homes in marshlands, according to a resolution adopted by the Cabinet. She said the decision would help scale down the effects of natural disasters on people living in wetlands.
"Our objective is to see all people in wetlands relocating to safer areas," she said.
Hajabakiga said most of the deaths occurred in the wetlands. "On several occasions, we have warned people against settling in marshlands but to no avail," she said.
She said the move to evict all wetland settlers would help enforce the law on the environment, which she noted had continued to be violated.
"When we discourage people from settling in certain areas, they complain that environmentalists exaggerate, but this time, we are ready to enforce the law. We have to save lives and we shall do anything to achieve this," she said.
Saying it was costly to resettle families displaced by natural hazards such as floods, Hajabakiga said: "It is a burden on the government to cover such losses which arise out of irresponsible settlements."
According to a recent study by the Ministry of Lands, Environment and Forestry, only 66,000 hectares of the total 165,000 hectares in the country can be used for agriculture.
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