Hydrogeology of Rwanda

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Rwanda is a small and relatively densely populated country. Its recent history has been dominated by violence between the related Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. Rwanda as a country has been a distinct entity from pre-colonial times. By the mid 18th century, the Kingdom of Rwanda was dominant in the territory, ruled by a Tutsi clan. Tutsis continued to dominate government throughout the colonial period after 1884, supported by the German (as part of German East Africa) and, after 1916, Belgian (as part of Ruanda-Urundi) colonising powers. Ethnic tensions periodically erupted into conflict, including a revolution in 1959. The monarchy was abolished after a colonial referendum in 1961. Rwanda gained independence in 1962, with Hutu now dominating in government. Periodic episodes of violence followed, including a military coup in 1973 and civil war that began in 1990. The most recent notorious and large-scale violence followed during the 1994 genocide, with Rwanda also playing a role in the Congo wars of the later 1990s. In the aftermath of the genocide there was a period of reconciliation and justice with associated improvement in economic, health and social indicators.

The 1990s war and genocide devastated Rwanda’s infrastructure and economy, which had been traditionally based on subsistence agriculture. Tea and coffee cultivation are the major cash crops, facilitated by climate and geography, and are growth agricultural industries. Minerals mining is a significant contributor to export income. The services sector has started to recover after the late 2000s recession, including banking and communications, and particularly tourism, which is now the main source of foreign income and is supported by government. This sector is boosted by the presence of mountain gorillas in uplands areas.

Rwanda has relatively high rainfall and both surface water and groundwater resources. Two major river basins cover Rwanda – the Nile and the Congo basins – and there are many lakes and wetlands. Groundwater is the main source of water supply in rural and some urban areas: in mountain areas from springs, and in other areas from boreholes.


Mr Francis Tetero, Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority

Dr Kirsty Upton and Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, British Geological Survey, UK

Dr Imogen Bellwood-Howard, Institute of Development Studies

Please cite this page as: Tetero, Upton, Ó Dochartaigh and Bellwood-Howard, 2018.

Bibliographic reference: Tetero F, Upton K, Ó Dochartaigh BÉ and Bellwood-Howard, I. 2018. Africa Groundwater Atlas: Hydrogeology of Rwanda. British Geological Survey. Accessed [date you accessed the information]. http://earthwise.bgs.ac.uk/index.php/Hydrogeology_of_Rwanda

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Geographical Setting

Rwanda. Map developed from USGS GTOPOPO30; GADM global administrative areas; and UN Revision of World Urbanization Prospects. For more information on the map development and datasets see the geography resource page.


Capital city Kigali
Region Eastern Africa
Border countries Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Total surface area* 26,340 km2 (2,634,000 ha)
Total population (2015)* 11,610,000
Rural population (2015)* 8,029,000 (69%)
Urban population (2015)* 3,581,000 (31%)
UN Human Development Index (HDI) [highest = 1] (2014)* 0.4832

* Source: FAO Aquastat


Rwanda's climate is classed as tropical savannah. Temperature does not vary significantly throughout the year but there are two distinct rainy seasons (February to May and October to December). Rainfall varies across the country, with drier conditions in the eastern savannah regions and much wetter conditions over the central plateau and western mountains.

Koppen Geiger Climate ZonesAverage Annual PrecipitationAverage Temperature

Average monthly precipitation for Rwanda showing minimum and maximum (light blue), 25th and 75th percentile (blue), and median (dark blue) rainfall Average monthly temperature for Rwanda showing minimum and maximum (orange), 25th and 75th percentile (red), and median (black) temperature Quarterly precipitation over the period 1950-2012 Monthly precipitation (blue) over the period 2000-2012 compared with the long term monthly average (red)

These maps and graphs were developed from the CRU TS 3.21 dataset produced by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK. For more information see the climate resource page.

In Rwanda, rainfall data are collected by MeteoRwanda. More detailed information on rainfall at a catchment scale is described in the Rwanda Water Resources Master Plan (2014).

Surface water

Rwanda is divided into two major river basins: the Nile in the east and centre, and the Congo in the west. Both are shared with neighbouring countries.

Within the Nile and Congo basins in Rwanda, smaller river catchments include the Rusizi and Akanyaru rivers (shared with Burundi); the Akagera River (shared with Tanzania and Burundi); the Muvumba River (shared with Uganda); and Lake Kivu and the Rusizi River (shared with the DRC). There are many smaller lakes, rivers and associated wetlands. The Akagera River, and its tributary the Nyabarongo, are two of the main rivers, both part of the upper Nile basin.

Surface water resources, as other water resources in Rwanda, are managed by the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority, previously the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Environment.

Nine Level 1 surface water catchments have been classified for Rwanda (see the Rwanda Water Resources Master Plan (RNRA 2014), page 10).

Surface water monitoring is generally good for the large catchments, but less well established for smaller catchments (RNRA 2014). Monitoring data are collected and stored as part of the Water Management Information System. Data from 65 surface water monitoring stations is now available via the Rwanda Water Portal.

Major surface water features of Rwanda. Map developed from World Wildlife Fund HydroSHEDS; Digital Chart of the World drainage; and FAO Inland Water Bodies. For more information on the map development and datasets see the surface water resource page.


Soil Map of Rwanda, from the European Commission Joint Research Centre: European Soil Portal. For more information on the map see the soil resource page.

Land cover

Land Cover Map of Rwanda, from the European Space Agency GlobCover 2.3, 2009. For more information on the map see the land cover resource page.

Water statistics

2000 2005 2014 2015
Rural population with access to safe drinking water (%) 71.9
Urban population with access to safe drinking water (%) 86.6
Population affected by water related disease No data No data No data No data
Total internal renewable water resources (cubic metres/inhabitant/year) 818.3
Total exploitable water resources (Million cubic metres/year) No data No data No data No data
Freshwater withdrawal as % of total renewable water resources 1.128
Total renewable groundwater (Million cubic metres/year) 7,000
Exploitable: Regular renewable groundwater (Million cubic metres/year) No data No data No data No data
Groundwater produced internally (Million cubic metres/year) 7,000
Fresh groundwater withdrawal (primary and secondary) (Million cubic metres/year)
Groundwater: entering the country (total) (Million cubic metres/year) No data No data No data No data
Groundwater: leaving the country to other countries (total) (Million cubic metres/year) No data No data No data No data
Industrial water withdrawal (all water sources) (Million cubic metres/year) 20.5
Municipal water withdrawal (all water sources) (Million cubic metres/year) 61.4
Agricultural water withdrawal (all water sources) (Million cubic metres/year) 102
Irrigation water withdrawal (all water sources) 1 (Million cubic metres/year) No data No data No data No data
Irrigation water requirement (all water sources) 1 (Million cubic metres/year)
Area of permanent crops (ha) 250,000
Cultivated land (arable and permanent crops) (ha) 1,400,000
Total area of country cultivated (%) 53.15
Area equipped for irrigation by groundwater (ha) 85
Area equipped for irrigation by mixed surface water and groundwater (ha) No data No data No data No data

These statistics are sourced from FAO Aquastat. They are the most recent available information in the Aquastat database. More information on the derivation and interpretation of these statistics can be seen on the FAO Aquastat website.

Further water and related statistics can be accessed at the Aquastat Main Database.

1 More information on irrigation water use and requirement statistics


The geology map shows a simplified overview of geology at a national scale (see the Geology resource page for more details). More information is available in the report UN (1988) (see References section, below).

Geology of Rwanda at 1:5 million scale. Based on map described by Persits et al. 2002/Furon and Lombard 1964. For more information on the map development and datasets see the geology resource page.


Most aquifers in Rwanda are found in fractured rocks - mainly granites, quartzite and schist. Volcanic aquifers are found in the Western Province and alluvial aquifers generally form narrow, shallow aquifers along river valleys.

Geological environments
Key formations Period Lithology
Alluvium and lake sediments Quaternary Unconsolidated alluvial sediments infilling valleys and forming floodplains; and lake sediments. These occur in parts of the Western Rift, along rivers and lakes. Significant outcrops of alluvial sediments occur in the Akagera River floodplain (shown on the map below as the line of Unconsolidated Aquifer along the eastern border of Rwanda). Smaller outcrops of alluvium are also present in river valleys across the rest of the country, but are too small to be shown on this map.
Volcanic rocks
Neogene (Cenozoic to recent) Volcanic rocks crop out in the northwest and southwest of Rwanda.
Granites Palaeoproterozoic The 'older granites' are seen in eastern Rwanda, along with granitic-gneisses and migmatites
Metasedimentary rocks, including Burundian Supergroup Mesoproterozoic Metasedimentary rocks, largely quartzites, sandstones, and shales of the Burundian Supergroup, which are locally intruded by granite.


The hydrogeology map below shows a simplified overview of the type and productivity of the main aquifers at a national scale (see the Hydrogeology map resource page for more details).

Information on groundwater in Rwanda is still relatively limited, but further detail can be found in the reports listed in the references section below, including a more detailed hydrogeological map, which is published in the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority Annual Water Status Report 2016-2017.

Hydrogeology of Rwanda at 1:5 million scale. For more information on how the map was developed see the hydrogeology map resource page

Hydrogeology Key.png


Aquifer Productivity Named Aquifers and General Description Water quantity issues Water quality issues Recharge
High Productivity Unconsolidated sedimentary deposits largely consist of alluvial sands, silts, gravels and clays, forming narrow aquifers along river valleys. Aquifer properties are variable, depending largely on lithology, but where the alluvium is dominated by coarser grained deposits, transmissivity can be high. Aquifers are usually unconfined with a shallow water table (<15mbgl). Recharge is generally high due to close connection with rivers and wetlands.

Groundwater use and management

The Ministry of Environment and the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority (RWFA) have responsibilities for managing water resources in Rwanda.

The Rwanda Water Resources Master Plan (2014) contains detailed recommendations for integrated water resources management, including setting up and operating a groundwater monitoring network. This has now started and data from the monitoring stations are available through the Rwanda Water Portal. An Annual Water Status Report was produced for 2016/17 and is available through the Water Portal (see References below). This contains a more detailed hydrogeological map of the country.

The Water Resources Master Plan estimated that total groundwater storage in Rwanda is around 162,176 Million Cubic Metres. There are no reliable estimates of total groundwater abstraction, but in 2005, groundwater was reported to account for 86% of safe drinking water supply in rural areas (Ministry of Natural Resources 2011). In the Eastern and parts of the Southern Province, most people depend on groundwater from boreholes. Extensive borehole drilling and shallow well construction have been done, mostly in the Eastern Province, since 1994. As of 2009, there were at least 400 boreholes and wells in various parts of the country (Ministry of Natural Resources 2011). In upland areas, groundwater from springs is a key resource, including via many piped water supply schemes. Spring supplies can be threatened by deforestation and erosion.

Transboundary aquifers

For further information about transboundary aquifers, please see the Transboundary aquifers resources page.


References with more information on the geology and hydrogeology of Rwanda may be accessed through the Africa Groundwater Literature Archive.

Online resources

Further information on Rwanda's water and groundwater resources can be found via:

Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority

Rwanda Water Portal

Water for Growth Rwanda - a joint Rwanda-Netherlands Initiative to promote improved integrated water resources management in Rwanda

Further geological information can be obtained from the [www.rmb.gov.rw Rwanda Mining Board].


Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA). 2014. Consultancy services for development of Rwanda National Water Resources Master Plan. Tender Number 021/RNRA/2011-2012. Master Plan Report: Main Volume. Final Version May 2014. Prepared by SHER Ingénieurs-Conseils s.a.

Rwanda Ministry of Natural Resources. 2011. Water Resources Management Sub-Sector Strategic Plan (2011-2015).

Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority. Annual Water Status Report 2016-2017

Water for Growth Rwanda. 2018. IWRM Programme Rwanda: Upper Nyabarongo Catchment Plan 2018-2024.

Water for Growth Rwanda. 2018. IWRM Programme Rwanda: Nyabugogo Catchment Plan 2018-2024.

Water for Growth Rwanda. 2018. IWRM Programme Rwanda: Sebeya Catchment Plan 2018-2024.

Water for Growth Rwanda. 2018. IWRM Programme Rwanda: Muvumba Catchment Plan 2018-2024.

Theunissen K, Hanon M and Fernandez N. 1991. Carte geologique du Rwanda (scale 1:250,000). Service Geologique du Rwanda et Musee Royale de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren.

United Nations. 1989. Groundwater in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa: Rwanda. United Nations Department of Technical Cooperation for Development.

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