Rwanda has abundant water resources, but with large untapped water reserves. Water resources consist of the freshwater systems of lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater, all replenished by rainfall through a dense drainage network that channels water to most parts of the country . Groundwater is an important source of water supply in rural areas, but information on its quantity is still scarce.
In Rwanda, the total number of wetlands is 935, with a total area of 176,337 ha . The wetland complex constitutes an important fishing area, with high catch yield. Nyungwe National Park (NNP) provides vital watershed protection for Rwanda and is an important hydrological network for the Akagera-Nile system.
The degradation of watersheds and water bodies in Rwanda is increasing due to unsustainable land use practices driven by the demands of intensified socio-economic development and continuing demographic pressures. The sustainable use of water in areas such as agriculture and hydropower require more vigilant attention from policy makers to preserve this indispensable resource . In addition, the demand for water resources and competition for water uses between economic sectors is also increasing.
The two main sectors of water users in Rwanda are agriculture and domestic. With agriculture being the most important economic activity, the intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides to boost agricultural productivity has had a major impact on the quality of water resources.
Key policies and governance approach
Various management responses and policies have been adopted to ensure the sustainable and integrated management of water resources in Rwanda, including the National Water Resources Management Plan of 2011 and the Green Growth Strategy. Included in the Green Growth Strategy is a program dedicated to the Integrated Management of Water Resources (IWRM). As a key driver of IWRM, Rwanda adopted rainwater harvesting techniques in 2011.
Rwanda is also a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. However, only 3% of its wetlands encompassing the Rugezi wetland have Ramsar status, while 53% are proposed for Ramsar status, several which are mostly located in City of Kigali, Akanyaru, Akagera and Rweru-Mugesera wetland complexes .
Successes and Remaining Challenges
Over the past decade, Rwanda has made significant progress in improving water quality and access to water and sanitation in rural and urban areas, reaching the level of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Rwanda is now committed to achieving the ambitious targets of the SDGs, not only on access and sanitation services but also on water quality.
Although rainwater harvesting can play an important role in achieving water security in Rwanda, there is still low adoption of rainwater harvesting techniques (less than 10%) . Moving forward, it is important that efforts to adopt rainwater harvesting are accelerated through, for example, pilot projects .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Development efforts are being implemented within the framework of Rwanda’s 2050 Water Supply Master Plans. For example, the Water Supply Master Plan for the City of Kigali focuses on Kigali and seven adjacent communes (Gahengeri, Muyumbu, Ntarama, Nyakaliro, Runda, Shyorongi and Rugarika), and aims at providing and maintaining universal access to safe drinking water in the City of Kigali until 2050.
The EU also finances several projects in Rwanda to contribute to the better management of the shared water resources of Lake Kivu and the Rusizi river, and to increase trade between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo at Rusizi II / Bukavu .
Goals and Ambitions
Rwanda seeks a balance between maintaining water resources and their full use as engines of development. As highlighted in its NDC, Rwanda aims to mainstream sustainable water resources management as a key intervention towards Rwanda’s 2030 commitment on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The country is committed to the development of national water security through water conservation practices, wetland restoration, water storage and efficient use of water.
The government of Rwanda aims for a balance between maintaining water and wetlands ecosystems and their full use as engines of development. Following actions are recommended:
- Develop effective urban water drainage and storm-water management. Efforts in this area will have positive effects on sanitary conditions, pollution control and general environmental quality.
- Improve the information and data on the quantity of groundwater. Groundwater is vital for Rwanda's water resources, however there is still a lack of information on their condition and transboundary management. It is recommended that Rwanda improve efforts to monitor the quantity of groundwater and possibly include this resource in its integrated management of water resources.
- The lack of adequate sanitation in both urban and rural regions in proximity to waterbodies is a problem in most water catchments in Rwanda. It is recommended that urban areas improve the management of wastewater treatments, while for rural areas the most appropriate approach might be the improvement of on-site sanitation systems coupled with education, awareness and behaviour change campaigns on sanitation practices .
 [Online]. Available: https://www.archify.com/sg/surbana-jurong/updates/detail/wetlands-master-planning-in-kigali-rwanda.
 Rwanda BIOFIN (2017). Biodiversity Finance Policy and Institutional review.
 REMA (2020). National Wetlands Management Framework for Rwanda.
 Delegation of the European Union to Rwanda (2017). [Online]. Available: https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/rwanda_mn/1714/Rwanda%20and%20the%20EU.