Nearly 200 bird species that had migrated due to wetland degradation have returned to Nyandungu Wetland Eco-tourism Park after its rehabilitation, City of Kigali Mayor, Pudence Rubingisa said.
He was speaking during the official opening of a five-day conference convening politicians, researchers, urban planners and designers, environmentalists, academics, government officials, and advocates from 40 countries to share the latest research, innovative ideas, and initiatives aimed at creating walkable streets and public spaces.
The theme of the conference, “Action for Walking” resonates deeply with the vision for Kigali and mirrors its dedication to creating urban spaces that prioritise the well-being of citizens and the environment, he said. Nyandungu Wetland has been restored and turned into a public space.
“Urban planning needs to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of local communities. Urban dwellers need facilities such as the restored Nyandungu Wetland serving as a public space to promote both walking, recreational activities, tourism and environmental conservation.
“Nyandungu public space has bicycle lanes, walkable streets for pedestrians, and tree species attracting fresh air. About 200 birds that had migrated due to degradation have returned,” he said.
In 2016, the Government of Rwanda through the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) developed the Nyandungu restoration project to also abate pollution and reduce the risk of flooding in urban areas.
The Rwf4.5 billion project has restored critical habitats, including a native fig forest and the wetland itself, and rehabilitated streams and ponds to alleviate floods and reed beds to reduce pollution.
Several species have been introduced including medicinal, cultural, and ornamental plants since the restoration project started.
The 120-hectare park (70 hectares of wetland and 50 hectares of forest) features a medicinal garden, a Pope’s garden, five catchment ponds, three recreation ponds, an information centre, a restaurant, 10km network of walkways and bike lanes, viewing areas, picnic areas, and others.
The restoration of the Nyandungu wetland and the creation of an eco-tourism park saw the planting of 17,000 trees made up of 55 indigenous species. The initiative also created approximately 4,000 green jobs. The public scape was opened for visitors in 2022.
Five more recreational wetlands in the pipeline
Rubingisa told the media that there are other five wetlands that will be soon rehabilitated for conservation and public space purposes in the City of Kigali.
“We are looking at the city in the next 30 years considering that 70 per cent of Rwandans will be living in urban areas or cities. People need to go to other public spaces such as car-free zones for recreational activities, sports without using cars,” he said.
The surface area of wetlands in Kigali decreased from 100 square kilometres to 77 square kilometres. The wetlands recommended for rehabilitation in Kigali City are 15 square kilometres.
Those recommended for sustainable use make 29 per cent, those for conservation make 38 per cent and the rest are recommended for recreation, according to the Ministry of Environment.
Five wetlands on over 470 hectares could also be used as recreational public spaces.
Bronwen Thornton, CEO of Walk21 Foundation which is promoting walking also made the case for public spaces.
“Cities need safe spaces, sidewalks that protect people who are walking. We also need good public spaces. We need car-free zones,” she said.
Need to increase walking and cycling
Rubingisa saidKigali’s investment in pedestrian infrastructure, dedicated bike lanes and green spaces, has resulted in a city where walking is not merely a necessity but a pleasure for all the citizens.
“Our ultimate goal is to increase walking for pedestrians and bicycle riding as means of transport in the near future as we reduce the motorised means,” he said.
He said the conference is an opportunity to share experiences, exchange ideas, and foster innovative solutions.
“Non-motorised transport also means cycling infrastructure. That is critical. Many people do not own cars. Some of them can earn their living by cycling. There are also electric bicycles that need to be used on our roads to green our transport,” said Alphonse Nkurunziza, a senior lecturer of transport planning, engineering and urban structure at the University of Rwanda.
He said more efforts are needed to implement national transport policy.
Source: The New Times