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The impact of the rains in Tanzania

Anaclet Rwegayura
May 8, 2018

African governments must take a fresh look at how they monitor climate change so they could 'identify what it brings to their countries,' warns Anaclet Rwegyarura.

open air market in knee-high water
Image: DW/S. Khamis

Tanzanians are exposed to a variety of environmental, physical, health and financial risks - undermining their potential to attain personal and national development goals.

Despite these obstacles, they press on seeking ways to avoid more red flags and the damage that such risks can cause. For instance, many of them cannot swim across high tides in rainstorms, but they say rescuers should be available when needed.

This year's rainy season has put Tanzanians to the test and forced many of them to shed tears, not associated with joy or irritation of the eyes, but they were weeping over the loss of property and loved ones.

A pall of gloom and disappointment hangs over many locations where floods washed away crops on farms, brought down homesteads and bridges and made roads impassable. In the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, hundreds of families had to abandon their inundated homes and small businesses, worrying about shelter.

A wet hell

Literally, it was a wet hell. As downpours pounded the city, some property owners took hammers and tongs to tear down small houses built on riparian land in order to save material for reconstruction of new homes in the dry season.

People guiding a motobike on a raft acorss the water
It was a 'wet hell', says Anaclet RwegayuraImage: DW/S. Khamis

But others were not as lucky when River Msimbazi burst its banks with a vengeance and cleared its path to the Indian Ocean.

Upcountry, it was the same story with travelers stranded on desolate roads where they couldn't get their vehicles unstuck from the mud.

Environment experts and planners of human settlements have many times tried to drive the message home about protection of the environment and how it relates to public health and safety, but their warnings either fall on deaf ears or are simply ignored.

The floods were another chance provided by the forces of nature for all and sundry to realize their vulnerability and acknowledge the imperative need of preparedness for adverse weather conditions and heed the principles of environmental conservation.

In the midst of cries for assistance, some people made absurd utterances that the government had not done enough to help flood victims. They overlooked the fact that careless disposal of garbage – especially plastics, – disregard of human settlement plans, deforestation and unscientific cultivation contributed to flooding in many areas.

When the sky is blue, local politicians tend to underrate professional opinion in favor of their own temporary gains, focused on election time. Their lack of vision and the capability to generate progress indicate how their leadership is not about the future of their constituents whose lives it affects.

Lack of vision

Assessment of the loss caused by the rains is not likely to take into account invisible challenges which could arise in the aftermath of the floods. Rain-bearing clouds did not rise from nearby waters but are part of the global system in which they are blown by winds around the planet, carrying microorganisms – a mixture of bacteria and fungi – that could later cause health problems to humans, livestock and plants.

African governments in general need to take a fresh look at how they monitor climate change so that they could identify what it brings to the continent. Being aware that a stitch in time saves nine, they shouldn't look to experts in industrialized countries to provide guidance where they can work out appropriate solutions.

Anaclet Rwegayura
Anaclet RwegayuraImage: Privat

These rains are likely to spike health challenges, double the burden of non-communicable and infectious diseases in slums which have poor sanitation facilities and access to safe water. Presently, Tanzanian slum dwellers have no idea of what they face as an invisible danger, apparently hidden in the rainwash.

Coping with the wet weather, flood victims including mothers with infants strapped on the back now wade barefoot through murky pools to look for daily essentials for survival. Before the floods turned their lives upside-down, they enjoyed what they considered acceptable living conditions.

Now their children are likely to suffer from malnutrition. Infectious diseases also stalk everybody in these circumstances where the urgent need is about sanitation and building toilets. The government cannot overlook their health and nutrition problems brought about by the rains in order to avert further catastrophe.

 With this emergency arising at the time when the government budget for 2018/2019 has already been fixed, it would be a grave error for authorities to hope for foreign salvation through the cooperation of other countries or international organizations. It has to adjust its estimates accordingly.

On the one hand, the solution to such problems must be a matter of national action before life in affected communities deteriorates. On the other hand, lack of savings and limited access to credit will make many households feel the impact of the rains for a long time to come. Without a safe and stable home, decent life will remain elusive to everyone.