Mwanga — A recent visit to the legendary 'Nyumba-ya-Mungu' dam which lies between the Mwanga District of Kilimanjaro and Simanjiro District of Manyara was a disheartening one. The former lifeline to thousands of fishermen which also served as auxiliary hydro-electricity power house was in pathetic condition.
Pathetic due to the fact that the dam's water level was threateningly low and seemed to be falling. 'Nyumba-ya-Mungu' essentially translates to 'House of God,' is a legendary man-made lake of great proportions and enough shares of urban legends and other gothic tales.
'Nyumba ya Mungu,' is a name derived from a historic house-shaped large rock which was being used by local villagers as an altar of worship because the people in the area believed their God lived there. But as the result of the construction of the dam, the house shaped stone or Nyumba-ya-Mungu, was submerged within the reservoir's waters, however the name continues to carry-on the 'God's' legend.
It used to be a vibrant economic hub frequented by fishermen, fish traders, tourists and swimmers but at the moment everything seems to have died down. Apart from a bored, gun carrying guard who also looked like he was even embarrassed to be watching over the dying dam, the entire area was grayish and lifeless.
At the moment there are no fishermen or traders striding the Nyumba-ya-Mungu shoreline but then, fishing activities were banned by both the Kilimanjaro and Manyara regional authorities since last February, in efforts to save the dam's diminishing water volume. Still, Nyumba-ya-Mungu Dam's bedrock activity remains that of Hydroelectric production right from the power station built on the dam's site and run by the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO).
The waters that have been filling the dam for 47 years now are said to originate from mostly the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro but some rivers emptying in the 'House of God' also come from as far as Mount Meru, in Arusha region. Measuring some 140 square kilometres in times of proper rains, the 'Nyumba-ya-Mungu' dam is relatively shallow and seasonally fluctuating water reservoir and installed power production capacity is said to clock at 8 MW.
In early days, visitors used to enjoy boating, sports fishing, swimming and walking around the dam as forms of leisure in addition to just gazing at the surrounding spectacular views. In fact, some tourists have been going there for birds watching. For years the activities were going well until recently when some fishermen started employing destructive fishing methods including explosives and poisonous chemicals and banned fishing nets.
And fishing which was previously done on low scale suddenly turned into mass commercial activity fuelled by the fact that a number of fishermen who used to practise at Lake Jipe, located about 40 kilometres from Nyumba ya Mungu, moved to the dam when Jipe recently started to dry up due to drought and the invasion of water clogging weeds at the source.
The situation forced about 4,000 out of 5,000 families of fishermen who spent many years making their living around the Lake Jipe measuring 166 square kilometres to set camp on 'Nyumba-ya-Mungu' dam. The dam also suffers the drought effect currently affecting many parts of the Northern Tanzania but recent reports reveal that the destructive water-clogging weeds (Typha doming-ensis), which are spreading very fast along the Pangani river basin have already made their presence felt at Nyumba ya Mungu dam.
In 2006 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) tried to address the 'man made' causes by investing 40 million/- in a special project to save the fish species in the dam, but no one is sure how the whole thing ended. The Nyumba-ya-Mungu dam was built in the early 60s by the late Mwalimu Nyerere's administration on the Pangani River over 50 kilometres South of Moshi town and the dam was originally built as a source of hydro-electric power for the newly independent Tanzania.
This reservoir was completed in 1965 when the Pangani river basin was dammed downstream at the meeting point of two rivers; the majestic Ruvu and Kikuletwa. Kikuletwa River originates from Mount Meru in the North-west direction and its water volume is fed by streams from Mount Kilimanjaro on its way.
The River Ruvu on the other hand flows from Lake Jipe in the North-east and also collects water from Mount Kilimanjaro as well as the Pare mountains. The 'House of God,' still helps to light up Tanga, Moshi and several other small towns in between. For years the dam was also playing an important role being a reliable source of protein, because its annual fish yield would go up to 25,000 tons.
Fishing may have been temporarily banned but as far as local residents are concerned, the activities resume at night, in the cover of darkness, besides, as far as most of them are concerned, it is always advisable to fish at dusk because that is when ample catch is guaranteed.
One of the local Ward Leaders, Mr Lawrence Munga, said the local people were looking forwards for the fishing ban to be lifted next August, however since the water level continues to drop, despite the recent rains, the future seems bleak. Other than fishing, the 'Nyumba ya Mungu' area has a dependable water table which has inspired a number of irrigation schemes.
Although the reservoir's water is not piped out anywhere, it has encouraged agriculturist migration into what is actually a rather arid extension of the Maasai Steppes of Simanjiro. Speaking of migration, few people are aware that some Malawi settlers once moved into the area and also occupied a certain portion of land, along the dam shores and even to this days there is a village known as 'Banda,' named after Mr Kamuzu Banda, the former president of Malawi and coincidentally the country's latest head of state is also (Joyce) Banda.