Most of Burundi’s internally displaced people were not displaced by conflict but by climate change. In the East African country, the consequences of climate change have forced more than 100,000 people to flee, according to Save the Children.
In East Africa, there has been an increase in frequent extreme weather conditions, such as persistent heavy rainfall. Therefore, there has been a spike in flood disasters in recent years, and Burundi is particularly affected.
The sharp difference in sea surface temperatures between the western and eastern areas of the Indian Ocean is to blame. The waters around East Africa are now about two degrees Celsius warmer than those of the eastern Indian Ocean near Australia.
By 2050, 85 million people are likely to become climate refugees.
In an unpublished report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by the AFP news agency, UN climate experts predict that floods in Africa will displace 2.7 million people a year in the future. By 2050, 85 million people are likely to become climate refugees.
As a result of climate change, the Nile Basin can expect changes beyond anything previously experienced. Healthy ecosystems, like wetlands, offer many opportunities to help adapt and manage some of these changes.
Wetlands are valuable environmental assets and play a vital role in controlling floodwaters, reducing erosion, improving water quality and serving as habitats for diverse plants, animals and microorganisms.
Wetlands around the shores of rivers and lakes provide, for example, essential areas for floodwaters to inundate. This capacity to store and slow the flow of water during floods can help to steady flow rates, reduce flood peaks and lower the risk of flooding for towns and important infrastructure.
The flooded nature of our wetlands also allows many of them to accumulate peat, a process taking place over thousands of years. Wetlands that have been damaged by drainage, overgrazing and other pressures emit carbon and therefore contribute to climate change.
Restoring and properly managing wetlands not only stops this emission of carbon, but it also allows wetlands to capture and store carbon, as well as absorb floodwaters and therefore averting flooding that regularly displaces people and destroys property.
Well-managed wetlands can therefore play an important role in helping society adapt to climate change.
But despite their potential contribution to the fight to rein back climate change, wetlands across the Nile Basin suffer from substantial degradation, both due to human action and the effects of climate change.
One crucial way of comprehending the significant losses caused by this degradation is to put a price tag on the ecosystem’s services.
The Rweru-Bugesera wetlands complex is a chain of lakes, marshlands and a river, and their basins, at the headwaters of the Nile River. “This wetland complex is shared between Rwanda and Burundi,” explains Herman Musahara, Associate Professor in the School of Economics College of Business and Economics at the University of Rwanda.
Rweru-Bugesera is one of the sub-basins in Rwanda. It involves the lake Rweru, the lake Cyohoha, Musahara explains, adding that its water drains into the Nile after feeding water into Akagera and Lake Victoria.
It is a relatively small wetland compared to others. But, he says, many people use the wetland, and it provides important ecosystem services.
The total economic value of the Rweru-Mugesera wetland is estimated at USD 124,098,826.
According to a 2020 Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) technical report, entitled “Wetlands and Biodiversity series Rweru-Bugesera Transboundary Wetlands Complex (Rwanda-Burundi)”, the total economic value of the Rweru-Mugesera wetland is estimated at USD 124,098,826.
The cost of degradation is estimated above USD 27.6 million, which is about 1.6 percent of the GDP of the two countries. The failure to rehabilitate and conserve wetlands that have been degraded, experts say, will lead to their inability to filter, store and supply fresh water and may ultimately lead to a water crisis.
According to Musahara, robust regulatory instruments are in place when it comes to the Rweru-Bugesera wetlands complex. However, he says, they are often not used: “There is a gap, which is reflected by the fact that implementing these policies and strategies is not on average more than 35 percent”.
Given the significant human and economic toll associated with degrading wetlands, urgent action is required – and soon.