Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and the Ministry of Environment have launched the use of drones in combating environmental crimes.
Environmental crime is an illegal act that directly harms the environment and is the fourth largest criminal activity in the world. It is increasing by five to seven per cent every year, according to reports.
The drones will collect information, conduct inspections for prevention, and support investigations of environmental crimes.
“The drones will help to respond to and control activities that damage our environment including land degradation, water pollution, and illegal logging in protected areas,” said Minister for Environment Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya.
“We thank the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) who joined us in the fight against environmental degradation where they conducted sensitisation campaigns on environmental crimes, identified victims of those environmental crimes, offenders and opened case files for prosecution,” she said.
She said reports found that commonly degrading activities are in illegal mining, communities that encroach the protected areas, especially parks, riverbanks, and water pollution as well.
“This drone reaffirms the existing work of conducting inspections for prevention, detection, and investigations of environmental crimes countrywide. This drone will help to collect information from no-go areas and the accurate data and information will inform further action,” she said.
The minister said the partnership with RIB will learn from the existing good partnership between Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in order to set up joint teams along with security forces at the district level and other concerned institutions to take appropriate measures to curb environmental degrading activities.
The drones will support the country’s efforts in protecting the environment as Rwanda seeks to achieve a vision to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
Rwanda has a long-term Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy and an ambitious climate action plan to reduce emissions by 38 per cent by 2030.
Crimes to be investigated
The environmental degrading activities to be investigated include land degradation, water pollution, and illegal logging, especially in protected areas.
Environmental experts have recommended a thorough investigation into why the Nyabarongo River continues to be polluted despite billions of money that have been invested in its conservation and protection.
In 2022, President Paul Kagame grilled officials in charge of the environment over increasing pollution in the Nyabarongo River.
Soil erosion is currently the major contributor to pollution in the Nyabarongo River. According to environmental experts, mining activities are also leading to the pollution of the Nyabarongo River.
At least five mining companies, five clay mining activities, and four sand mining activities in the districts of Kamonyi, Muhanga, Gakenke, and Ngororero were found to be polluting the environment last year.
Maxwell Gomera, UNDP Resident Representative described the drones to combat environmental crimes: “These aren't just flying cameras; they're guardians in the sky, protecting our land and people from the risks of illegal activities.
“The drone will be used in the fight against environmental crimes by enabling monitoring, detecting, and collecting evidence that will be used to prosecute the culprits,” said Rwanda Investigation Bureau Secretary General Jeannot Ruhunga.
Abias Maniragaba, an environmental expert, said that encroachment is one of the main environmental crimes in Rwanda.
According to the Auditor General report, for instance, the Nyabarongo River buffer zone is being encroached. No activity is allowed 50 metres from water bodies' shores.
However, the assessment realised that many activities have encroached 50 metres in buffer zones of lakes Kivu and Muhazi shores, as well as 10 metres from the shores of rivers Nyabarongo and Sebeya, among other water bodies.
“The drone is timely to inspect and help in investigating environment crimes given that there is a limited number of environment inspectors,” Maniragaba said.
He said that wildfires and wetlands encroachment should also be focused on during environmental crime investigations.
“For instance, Nyungwe forest was recently burnt and nobody has been arrested for the crime. Drone is a solution to detect polluters,” he noted. At least 125 hectares of Nyungwe forest were recently burnt.
According to a report from the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management, wildfires have devastated nearly 1,000 hectares of forests within the last three years. In 2020 alone, wildfires consumed 458 hectares of forests from July to September, with the most affected districts being Bugesera, Gatsibo, Kayonza, Muhanga, Nyamagabe, and Nyanza.
The report further reveals that wildfires scorched 160 hectares in 2021 and 73 hectares in 2023.
Measures to counter illegal logging and poaching in Rwanda’s national parks should maintain speed considering that the cases are still being recorded, conservation experts have also said.
According to the REMA, owners of industries and public buildings have also failed to conduct and comply with the environmental impact assessment to avoid likely effects on the environment at the earliest time.
Anyone who carries out any activities of compacting or changing the nature of the wetland except those related to research and science in protected swamps pays an administrative fine of Rwf5 million and is ordered to rehabilitate damages.
Any person who piles, abandons, disposes of wastes, or dumps wastewater or materials in unauthorised public or private places pays a fine of Rwf50,000 and is ordered to remove substances or rehabilitate damages.
If the acts are committed by a person authorised to treat waste, they are liable to an administrative fine of Rwf5 million, and the authorisation is also suspended or withdrawn.