10 November 2012

Tanzania: Environment and Development Dilemma


Many developers as well as environmentalists acknowledge that it is important to protect the environment in order to ensure sustainable development. But it is easier said than done.

For example, a power supply company cut a rare tree at Sombetini area in Arusha City recently. The aim was to clear the way in order to re-install a power line which caused power outages because of irregularities. Staff from the power supply company did not experience any dilemma in deciding to cut the tree in order to provide development to people in the area in the form of electricity. To their credit company staff informed relevant people of their intention to cut the tree.

The tree is called Acacia albida in science. It is called Apple ring in English and Olasiti in Maasai language. It implies that Acacia albida previously dominated the area of Arusha City which is called Olasiti.

The tree which was cut has given way to development in the form of electricity. The only remaining mature apple ring tree in the Center of Arusha City can be observed at the Natural History Museum gardens. Other stands of the tree can be observed in the outskirts of Arusha at Njiro particularly at the Njiro Forest. The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute owns and manages the forest for beekeeping and research purposes.

A family member declared, "I will miss the tree". She made reference to the tree which the power supply company has cut on her plot. She will miss the tree which she has been seeing to grow in front of her house for the past fifteen years. She will miss the tree for ever if the stump that has been left uncut does not sprout.

Members of the family will miss the tree since it was the only species of Acacia that existed on their plot. Apparently, members of that family have planted seven different species of Acacia on their plot out of passion for Acacia trees over the years.

Yet, family members were in a dilemma. They admitted that they missed electricity as well during the night as a result of damages on the power line. And that they were ready to sacrifice their rare Acacia tree in exchange for electricity. Meanwhile, affected households nearby probably do not feel a sense of dilemma when it comes to a decision to cut the tree, any tree, in exchange for electricity. It is probably the case based on the current state of environmental awareness in the area.

Apparently, an electric pole fell on the power line recently thereby causing short circuit that triggered the power system in the area to switch off. Therefore, the pole rather than the tree which was cut caused damages that led to power shortages. It was unfortunate but it is too late to argue for the tree. The tree became another victim of the powerful tree cutting machine called chain saw. Rain was also to blame. The electric pole fell on the power line as a result of the ongoing heavy rains in the City.

Speaking of power, generation of electricity for development can cause other dilemmas. Beneficiaries may opt to get electricity thereby ignoring the many environmental and social hazards that hydro power generation can cause. Hydro power generation systems may cause hazards that include water borne diseases, floods, soil erosion and sedimentation. Even small hydro turbines along a river can be very destructive. They can distort fish breeding systems if located along breeding sites or the turbines may chop fish that decide to swim along the stream beyond the turbines.

Equally destructive to the environment is development in the water sector particularly when collecting surface water from springs or rivers. It becomes a dilemma when project developers have to decide how to share the water between human beings and other living things. It is difficult to decide how much water is to be left for plants and other animals especially where water for human consumption is scarce.

Therefore, it is easy to speak of protection of the environment to sustain development. But actually, the reality is complicated in many cases.

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