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Rural women bear the brunt as water, firewood scarcity persists


Every morning Dorothée Mukarukundo treks two kilometers to fetch water before she goes farming. Whenever she is done with farming she sometimes fetches firewood and heads home to deal with other activities such as cooking and cleaning the house among others.

In the evening, she makes sure that she makes another round to the river to fetch water the family uses and also resumes evening activities.  

“Before going to the farm, I must bring water which I use to prepare lunch when I’m back home. All children are currently in boarding schools, at least when they are on holiday they help me with water and firewood. Now it’s my own responsibilities” Says Mukarukundo

 “The nearest source of water has dried up and now we are obliged to walk miles to find the other source. Having water just in my compound or just a shared tab in our village is still the dream for many women here,” she said.

Venentie Umurerwa a mother of 3 and a resident of Gicumbi District said it is very hard for her to find firewood as the remaining forests are no longer accessible.

“It requires using charcoal or cooking gas which I can’t afford, most of us here can’t afford. So, we choose to go in streets and farms to collect firewood and it takes much time and effort,” she said.

The City of Kigali has at least 28% of residents who use cooking gas while 1% of Rwandans use cooking gas countrywide.

Mukarukundo and Umurerwa are just two women in thousands of women who are involved in unpaid care work. Most husbands do not consider supporting them and society does not take it into consideration, leaving women more vulnerable. 

A Rwandan woman spends between six and seven hours on unpaid care work per day, which contributes to gender inequality, especially her participation in socio-economic and political opportunities, research conducted by Action Aid revealed.

Action Aid Rwanda is a civil society organization working with poor and marginalized people, with a focus on women.

Generally, a woman in the rural area spends at least 7 hours of the day only on unpaid care work, while in urban areas she spends around six hours, the study shows.

Unpaid care work consists of the production of goods or services in a household or community that are not sold on a market.

Domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, washing, water fetching, firewood collection, and child care are some of the unpaid care works that many women do on a daily basis.

Water and firewood hard to find

Based on actual prices, one kilogram of gas costs Rfw1500 ($1.5) while a sack of charcoal costs around Rfw12000 ($12), and the prices increase constantly.

The current country forest cover is 704,997 ha equivalent to 29.6% of which planted forests occupy 17.7% and 11.9% for natural forests according to the officials.

The recent National Forest Inventory revealed that the above-mentioned forests are extremely degraded with average productivity of 50 m3 per ha instead of 300 m3 per ha.

According to official statistics, Currently, 83% of Rwandans use firewood for cooking, while less than 20% use other cooking technologies like Biogas, Gas, and improved stoves.

The total production from forests in Rwanda is still very low compared to what should be available. Only 28 million tons of woody biomass stock are produced instead of 75 million tons per year because forests are prematurely harvested precisely for cooking reasons.

According to Anathole Uwiragiye, the ongoing POWER Project Manager at Action Aid Rwanda, water should be available at least between 500 and 200 meters from every home and Rwandans should be facilitated to use biogas instead of firewood.

“Research has revealed that if a woman finds water nearest her home and gets facilitated to own biogas then she should be able to participate in other income-generating and political activities. If people are facilitated by the government to find fertilizers, why not apply the same methods to biogas?”  asks Uwiragiye

The government set a target that in 2024, only 48% of Rwandans will be using firewood in cooking.

Claver Gatete, Minister of Infrastructure said the Government is determined to reduce the use of charcoal and wood fuel for cooking.

According to the ministry, at least 380 hectares of forest are cut down every week for charcoal production and firewood with at least 61,000 sacks of charcoal supplied to Kigali every week.

“We have a programme that could distribute improved cookstoves to two million Rwandans. They must be affordable and use less wood fuel, especially in rural areas. We want that at least all people in cities and those with enough financial capacity use cooking gas,” he told the media recently.  


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