29 January 2013

Tanzania: Climate Change Takes a Toll At Pangani River Basin

FOR Joanita Kilimba of Langoni village of Pangani District, the day starts at 2.00 am. That is the time when she must wake up, walk about 100 metres to a small shallow well and fetch water that the family will use for the rest of the day. However, sometimes she oversleeps and wakes up at 3.00 am or 4.00 am.

Then the cost of sleeping would be reflected by the family's failure to wash in the morning or miss their lunch because there would be no water. "We have a big shortage of water here especially during the dry season like now.

This shallow well serves almost half the population of the village so if I don't wake up as early as 2.00 am then other women will have fetched all the water and we will have none," she told members of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) who visited Pangani District recently.

"Sometimes it is very dark, so my husband has to escort me here. If I am not here by three then I won't get water until may be later in the afternoon. Sometimes it doesn't matter if I am here at three because there would be a long queue of women waiting to fetch water and by the time my turn comes, there would be no more water in the well."

She explained that even after waking up as early as that the amount of water that she can get does not exceed four buckets (about 80 lts), which means anyone coming later than that usually doesn't get water and will have to wait until noon when enough would have collected in the well.

The quality of the water also leaves a lot to be desired. It is brownish and full of debris from the trees and grass around the well, a condition that called for a lengthy sterilisation process before it could be fit for human consumption.

"Usually I leave the water to settle for about one hour, then slowly filter it into another container and finally boil it before we can drink it," Mariam told the journalists. Asked if everyone in the village boils their water for drinking, she said she did not know.

"Some people don't have the time to follow this process and drink it without boiling it. Only God knows why we have not suffered from water borne diseases," she added. She told the journalists that there are water vendors in the village who sell a jerry can of 20 litres for between 500/- and 600/-.

"Many people here are poor and cannot afford this," she noted. The well which is hardly two metres deep lies on a dry river bed. The river used to flow throughout the year but it has now become seasonal.

However the villagers could not dig a deeper well because of a layer of rock they found two metres from the surface and because they did not have the appropriate equipment, they decided to stop where they did. Anyone who visits the area where the well is dug would wonder why the river has dried.

The riverbed is about a metre deep and the area has thick natural vegetation comprising tall grass and a small forest even at that time when the dry season was at its peak. It was surprising that the river had dried up even under such a healthy environment.

Langoni Village Executive Officer Omar Kibwanga (32) explained that Kirupu River used to flow throughout the year and supply water to the village of about 1, 000 inhabitants. "We had fitted a pump here which supplied water to the village.

But about five years ago the flow of water started to go down and eventually there was no water in the dry season. Even during the rainy season, water is only available for a short time and a day or two after it has rained the water disappears from the river," he told the journalists, taking them around areas where the pump house and other infrastructure had stood.

However, two structures remain standing to tell the water story in the area; a 12 metre deep well, a concrete structure from which the water was pumped to the village and a concrete abstraction that was built across the river in order to provide water to the well. An inscription on the wall reads WD& ID 1970, probably indicating that the construction was made in 1970 by the Public Works Department and Irrigation Department.

The other side of the village tells a different story. Here, Mliwaza River has substantial amount of water, enough to meet the needs of the villagers. A water pump has been installed and according to villagers, its operation was short-lived allegedly because the amount of water was too little to be pumped.

The pump now sits idle and the small pump house a piece of decoration. However, the journalists observed that the problem was not the small amount of water in the river because water was still flowing in the river and at point it was deep enough to sink an adult person.

They also observed that a wall which was built to harness water and create a small dam from which the water could be pumped had broken. Explaining the situation to the journalists, the Councillor for Pangani West, John Semkande, said that the problem was not the low level of water in the river, rather the poor construction of the wall meant to trap the water. "It is a problem of workmanship.

This wall has been constructed very poorly and that is why it has only stood for six months," he said. "The councillor from this part told us that they had to remove the pump because the water level was very low; he never said that the wall had collapsed because the District Council would not hear of it.

So 15 m/- that was spent here has all gone down the drain," noted Semkande scarcely hiding his anger. He had accompanied the journalists to Langoni. He said that he suspected foul play by the contractor but also thought that village leaders and the councillor had collaborated in messing up the project.

"Many villages do not have enough water for their needs but I think the situation is compounded by irresponsible and selfish leaders. This is one such case," he told the journalists. Speaking to JET members about the water situation in Pangani District, Engineer Mohammed Hamis explained that climate change has greatly affected water supply in the district.

"The quality and quantity of surface water has particularly been affected," he noted. According to the District Water Engineer, salt water intrusion in Pangani River has now gone up to eight kilometres upstream because of the rising level of the Indian Ocean. It is for this reason that pumping for fresh water to supply residents of Pangani town has to be done when the tide is low, otherwise they would be supplied with salt water.

"We are now thinking of moving the pump house further upstream to avoid supplying residents with salt water," he told the journalists. But intrusion of salt water into fresh water is not the only problem facing water supply in Pangani.

"Many small rivers that act as feeders to Pangani River have turned seasonal, flowing only during the rainy season when there is plenty of freshwater, anyway. Others have completely dried up, discharging no water throughout the seasons. As a result, the discharge from Pangani River has also gone down significantly," he explained.

In other parts of the district, people get their supply of water from deep and shallow wells but these deep wells in particular, too are being affected by salination. "Rising sea levels have not spared deep wells. Many of them now produce salt water which is not fit for human consumption and the problem is very serious in Sange village.

The district has started drilling other wells further inland in a bid to supply communities with freshwater but this requires a lot of money," he explained, adding that in many parts of the district people drink salty water with levels of salination higher than those prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"For this reason, Tanzania has set her own standards of salt water which are lower than those of the WHO to enable people drink this water, otherwise it would be against international regulations to drink it," he revealed.

Asked what measures the district is taking to deal with the poor quality and short supply of water, Engineer Hamis said that research is being done to find out the best supply sources for the town residents. Such a source would not be affected by salt water intrusion caused by rising sea levels." Pangani Basin Water Office is conducting the research together with IUCN and other organisations.

As for the water supply problem, we are educating communities to take rain water harvesting seriously," he explained, adding that currently schools, institutions, and dispensaries are engaged in rain water harvesting. "But a strong political push is required for people to participate in this activity," he noted.

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