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The common thinker will blame floods and resulting catastrophes on “heavy rain” or climate change. It is understandable. But one thing is for sure: in trying to avert future calamities, reducing the rain is out of reach. Our technological capabilities cannot control how much rain and wind come our way —  to destroy the environment — and the laws of nature still dictate that there are more ways for things to go bad than good. The real challenge is to make sure we can minimise damages and, no doubt, we have the capacity to do it.

In contrast, the recent series of incidents left many questions on the minds of problem-solvers who think around systems. As torrential and lengthy rains poured down the city and other areas of the country, it was not hard to imagine the damages.

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In the past few months, the rains have left tens of public infrastructure and family houses destroyed, plus dozens of losses in human lives (noting lots of other species die in the process). On Christmas Day of Twenty-nineteen alone, when it started, at least twelve people were reported dead. And many others died early this month.

Indeed, these short-term losses are damning.

Floods also cause massive soil erosion and imagining consequences to a hilly, small, and densely populated city like ours in the long-term could be more depressing. In examining the cause of these grave floods, a better approach is to look at the broad view and seek explanations for why things have happened the way they have.

To begin, of course, there are high-risk zones of habitation (and it’s a good thing that the central government has decided to look into it). There are also high-risk realities we should acknowledge as we look to both the present and the future: our collective inattention to details such as — to mention a few — the obvious absence of roadside wells downtown, and in many parts of the city, which, if they existed, would channel water more appropriately.

There is also a surprising lack of rainwater collection systems on most (if not all) buildings, despite the fact that many of them were constructed in the past decade. When it rains as it has in the past few months, the waters are left to concentrate in huge quantities before descending the hills in torrents.

To sustain Kigali’s infrastructural progress, the city architects need no shortage of long-term strategists and detail-oriented thinkers on their teams, as well as error-correction mechanisms.

Looking ahead, leaders should also shift from focusing primarily on the attainment of the immediate physical objectives and leave enough room for such practices that enable those they lead to find new ways to build a more sustainable city. Kigali needs a suitable drainage system which allows free flow of water and prevents accumulations that lead to floods and other consequences.

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