How has the environment of Zaire been affected by the refugees of the Rwandan genocide?
The mass movement of about 2 million Rwandan refugees to Zaire occurred in 1994. The refugees moved not only to Zaire, but they also moved to Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda. Kivu, where the majority of the Rwandan refugees were located, was already the most overpopulated region in Zaire. After the refugees moved in, the population was estimated at 8 million, nearly 2 million more than the earlier population. Moreover, Kivu had a fragile ecosystem. The organizations in charge of the refugees were not able to protect the environment very well. This was very important because a neglect of environmental factors could have caused further population displacement. This essay will talk about each of the different environmental problems caused by the Rwandan refugees in Zaire.
Refugee movements tend to lead to serious disturbances of ecological systems. Unquestionably, the most serious
environmental problem created by the Rwandan refugees was deforestation within and around all the refugee camps. The Zairian government had estimated that the South Kivu region lost 3750 hectares of forestland within 3 weeks of the arrival of the refugees. Deforestation was thought to increase the value of the land by refugees, and was thus thought profitable to all the members of the community. There was an urgent need for studies of appropriate forms of land use, the development of agricultural methods, construction and other land uses. In the city of Bukavu, the refugees not only cut the trees around the buildings, they occupied – Alfajiri Institute, Ibanda Institute, Bukavu Cathedral, General Hospital, and Nyrakavogo-Parizi Clinic and also used the furniture in many of these buildings as firewood. The deforestation around all the refugee camps was already substantial. Further, not only was the process continuing constantly, it was even accelerating in some areas. Excessive deforestation in a mountainous region results in erosion. According to journals, the city of Bukavu, also had to contend with extensive erosion due to deforestation. This had caused many deaths and the destruction of many houses. UNDP (United Nations Development Program, 1994) research supports this statement: “As we can observe in and around the refugee camps in Goma, the problem is very serious, and even critical in and around the refugee camps in Bukavu city, located in a mountain area. Lack of appropriate terraces and the destruction of almost all vegetation by the Rwandan refugees caused erosions which destroyed many houses.”
The Kivu region had an international reputation in nature conservation. The Kahuzi Biega national park is located in South Kivu, which is home to mountainous gorillas, many other animal species and diverse vegetation. At least until early 1995, no refugee camps were located near the Kahuzi Biega national park, so deforestation as a result of refugee activity was not observed. The North region of Kivu possesses one of the biggest parks in the world: the national park of Virunga. The reputation of these parks is due to the variety of species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In North Kivu, the most severely affected parts were in Goma and its surrounding area, and in the Virunga national park. In Goma, the total deforested areas were estimated at 300 hectares. This includes trees along the roads; compounds of schools, hospitals, churches that were occupies by refugees, and on Mont Goma. The most deforested area is Mont Goma, which was deforested in only three days to such an extent that not even a single tree was standing. While deforestation around all major camps in North or South Kivu was significant, the real critical environmental problem was undoubtedly in the Virunga National Park. The refugees at the camps of Kibumba, Mugunga, Katale and Nyabirehe were directly responsible for causing extensive deforestation in the Virunga national...
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