Population growth, environmental destruction, and genocide

Rapid population growth and extreme environmental degradation were closely linked to the outbreak of genocidal violence in Rwanda in 1994, according to an article in the September/October issue of World Watch magazine by James Gasana, who served as Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture and Environment in 1990-92, and Minister of Defence in 1992-93. While serving in the government, he collected statistics, which show that the conflict had much more complex roots than just deep ethnic hatred.

"Gasana's detailed records on land ownership, soil fertility and hunger give us a stunning inside look at the root causes of Rwanda's tragic fall," said Ed Ayres, editor of World Watch. "This report takes us far beyond the usual broadbrush linkage of environmental problems and conflict."

Rwanda's population soared from 1,887,000 people in 1948 to more than 7,500,000 in 1992, making it the most densely populated country in Africa. Poor farmers were forced onto marginal land, where cultivation resulted in severe erosion. Reliance on firewood as a source of energy caused massive deforestation, and farmers were then forced to use straw and other crop residues for fuel, thereby damaging soil fertility. These factors led to a disastrous shortfall in food production, with two-thirds of the population unable to meet even the minimum food energy requirement of 2,100 calories per person per day.

"Gasana shows that there was a stark relationship between how many calories per day people were getting, and whether there was violence in a given area in 1991-92," said Ayres. "There were incidents of violence in 18 communities where food production was under 1,600 calories per day, but no conflicts occurred where people were getting more than 1,600 calories per day."

Gasana concludes that rapid population growth was the major driving force behind the vicious circle of environmental scarcities and rural poverty in Rwanda.

[Complete article]

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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