By MBONEKO MUNYAGA, 23rd December 2011 @ 11:03, Total Comments: 0, Hits: 1281
We all know “fire is a good servant but bad a master.” However, for all its stubborn power of destruction, man can at least battle blazes and bring their anger and fury under control. It is an extremely different story when water plays the bad master game.
Raging waters are impossible to stop and their path nothing short of a trail of misery. Two days of terrible lashing by water that the Almighty hang above us, literally submerged Dar es Salaam and much of the country, which until these few last days of December, was looking ahead to an idealistic year ender.
But with over 30 people dead, hundreds of houses swept away and property damage running into millions of shillings, 2011 at the very closing hour, arguably went down as Tanzania’s annus terribilis. It had arguably again, started as annus horribilis as the country experienced the worst power rationing in history blamed on low generation capacity due to drying up hydroelectric dams because of failed rains.
Finally, when the rains came, Dar es Salaam was sinking. What a contradiction? And, what tragedy for the spirit of the season as tomorrow is Christmas! I will not lay any blame on any of the victims of Dar es Salaam’s deluge in the low lying lands. They were victims already of a combination of other factors, including a lack of sites and services.
For who doesn’t want to live in inner city or well planned settlements? The Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) told us that Dar es Salaam was drenched by the heaviest rains in nearly 60 years. But the nation is no stranger to cycles of El Nino phenomenon.
In 1998, also after a long dry spell, El Nino rains in just three months filled the Mtera Dam to busting level and water had to be spilled to save it from being swept away! Authorities said the Dam received rainfall that would have taken three years of normal rainfall to reach that level.
And, I remember as student in 1968, we left Dodoma by train going to Mwanza only to be stranded at Itigi because beyond that point, unusually heavy rains had washed the railway tracks away.
I decided to go Singida and proceed to Mwanza by bus only to learn that I had just jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The bridge at Iguguno, some 40 kilometres from Singida, had been washed away and no buses were either coming in or leaving.
The rains in 1968 were clearly another El Nino phenomenon, which is usually preceded by an equally severe dry spell. Before that in 1958, Tanzania had also experienced unusually heavy rains that extended the shoreline of Lake Victoria up to a kilometre in some areas. There was severe damage to property too that year but the rain was taken as a good omen because the country was just about to be free.
The ancestors, the story thus went, were happy that their children were about to shake off the shackles of colonialism and decided to gift them with showers of blessings. Lake Victoria has never gone back to its former limits and that is why some of us are skeptical when we here talk of the lake possibly drying up.
The government recently bought a new ferry to serve across the Rugezi Channel that separates Ukerewe Island from present day Bunda district, otherwise known as Mwibara in the 1950s. It now takes about 20 minutes to cross that channel but before 1958, it basically used to be a walk over distance over some mashes.
So water is indeed a blessing but probably the worst master, much as it is the source of life. What the country needs now is to come up with a plan to control floodwaters and put the resource to better economic use. According to some studies, conflict over rights to water, could be the trigger of the next global war.
We in Tanzania are the world’s number one country in per capital water resources. We should not count it as a curse but as a blessing. In 1971, the banks of the Rufiji River threw back and people had to be rescued from isolated hamlets by helicopter. I remember Mzee Rashid Kawawa was the Prime Minister and personally took charge of that operation.
In 1972, when Dr Wilbert Chagula, one of the finest brains this country has ever produced was Minister of Econimic Planning, he came up with a countrywide flood control programme that would have seen the water that now flows freely into the Indian Ocean being used
for agriculture in what would have been this country’s first Green Revolution.
His plan by then would have cost Sh500 million, a figure that was seen as astronomical according to the values of the day and therefore unaffordable. I am sure Dr Chagula’s good work gathers dust in the shelves of the Planning commission, with probably no one interested in it today.
As we count our loss, let us also appreciate the blessings occasioned by an abundance of water and learn to make good use of statistical data. Tanzania seems to have10-year cycles of unusually heavy rains coinciding with either the number (1) one or (8) eight. Granted. People will be removed from low lying areas but that won’t stop the flooding.
The country needs urgently a flood control project for the rivers that flow into Dar es Salaam – Msimbazi, Kizinga and Mbezi - to serve as a classroom for similar projects throughout the country. For me, there is no department more suitable for that kind of work than the planned reintroduction of the National Service.
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