World Resource Institute

Rwanda: Ecosystem Restoration and Sustainable Hydropower Production

By Hilary Hove, Jo-Ellen Parry, and Nelson Lujara

In 2003-04, Rwanda experienced a major electricity—and as a result, economic—crisis. This crisis was triggered by a steep decline in power generation at the Ntaruka hydropower station, attributed to a significant drop in the depth of Lake Bulera, the station’s reservoir. The water loss was precipitated by a combination of factors, including: poor management of the upstream Rugezi Wetlands; degradation of the surrounding Rugezi-Bulera-Ruhondo watershed due to human activity; poor maintenance of the station; and reduced rainfall in recent years.

In response to its energy crisis, Rwanda has sought to restore the degraded watershed by halting on-going drainage activities in the Rugezi Wetlands and banning agricultural and pastoral activities within and along its shores, as well as along the shores of nearby lakes Lakes Bulera and Ruhondo. But this left the region’s poor rural households no longer able to access key resources, jeopardizing their livelihoods. The Government responded with additional agricultural and watershed management measures including: building erosion control structures; planting a bamboo and grass belt around the Rugezi Wetlands; planting trees on surrounding hillsides; distributing improved cookstoves; and promoting both environmentally sound farming practices, and additional income-generating activities such as beekeeping.

Today, the Ntaruka hydropower station has returned to full operational capacity while local livelihoods are, in the main, more secure. The story of Rwanda’s electricity sector demonstrates the importance of integrated watershed management in pursuing energy security in a changing climate.

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