25 February 2013

Tanzania: Mismanagement Blamed for Drying Up of Ruaha River

Iringa — USERS of water from the Great Ruaha River (GRR), who have been meeting here for four days during the Great Ruaha River Catchment National Stakeholders Workshop, have identified poor management of resources as the major reason behind failed efforts by various stakeholders to reinstate year-round flows of the river.

The drying up of some sections of the river has not only affected the production of electricity at Mtera hydropower plant but also reduced supply of water for wildlife in Ruaha National Park and strained fishing activities among communities downstream.

Mtera hydropower station has the capacity to produce 80 Megawatts but currently produces about 40MW due to very low water supply from the reservoir. Beginning the early1990s, sections of the river started drying up and realizing the devastating consequences in 2001, the government declared its intention to support efforts by local and international organizations to ensure that the river flowed throughout the year by 2010.

However, despite a lot of work done by various organizations including WWF Tanzania Office, the river attained perennial flows only in 2009 and the situation became worse in subsequent years, with 2010 recorded as the year with the longest dry period.

"There should be more involvement of local government in all programmes that aim to turnaround the situation of the river and its catchment.

The local governments should be major actors because they are close to people who conserve or destroy water resources, and so they are a key component in the management of water resources," explained former officer-in charge of the Rufiji Basin Water Board, Willy Mwaluvanda.

He said that besides local governments through their district councils assuming a key role, it is important to realign programmes aiming at restoring perennial flows so that they focus on all water resources in the Usangu Valley instead of concentrating on sub-catchments and a few wetlands.

He explained that the GRR is fed by many streams, rivers and wetlands thus conserving only a few of them and leaving out others will not solve the problem. "But, there is a problem of funding to implement all programmes that are earmarked.

Unfortunately, we often don't acknowledge lack of finances we face but the truth is that programmes carried out previously were not accomplished due to lack of money and that is why we could not meet the target of making the GRR flow throughout the year by 2010," he pointed out.

The former Director of Water Resources in the Ministry of Water, Washington Mutayoba, pointed at lack of incentives for implementing groups as accounting for failure of previous programmes. He said that if for example the programmes want farmers to reduce the amount of water they use for irrigation, then they should know what they will get instead.

"If reducing the amount of water used for irrigation will enable them to raise crop production, then let them understand this and they should see the results. There must be incentives for agreed actions; there must be incentives for participation. We must address this issue if we are to succeed in restoring perennial flows of the Great Ruaha River," he said.

Mutayoba also highlighted the problem of talking a lot with little or no action in addressing the GRR issue. "Over the past years there has been a lot of talk that has seen little action as far as dealing with the GRR problem is concerned. The political will is there but this should be translated into concrete action if we are to change the current situation of the river," he warned.

Contributing to the discussion, Rufiji Basin Water Board (RBWB) Community Development Officer, David Muginya explained that many rivers in the GRR catchment have lost their course and this has resulted in the water being lost in the plains instead of pouring into the Ruaha.

He also noted that irrigation canals and other infrastructure are dilapidated thus occasioning sever water loss and wastage. "The challenge here is to revive these rivers and rehabilitate irrigation systems so as to cut water loss and wastage. We should focus on addressing the problem of infrastructure instead of committing funds to new projects," he said.

A farmer from Ndembela sub-catchment in the GRR Nicholas Kalinga explained that programmes conducted between 2000 and 2008 have succeeded in raising awareness for conservation of water resources and management of water for irrigation.

"Now, individual farmers know why they should conserve and protect water resources and how they should use water wisely. This achievement has been made not through government but through efforts by NGOs like WWF who communicate to farmers and work with them directly.

The important thing is that people must understand and act basing on their knowledge and not on government directives," he said. Responding to arguments the officer-in-charge of Rufiji Basin Water Board, Idris Msuya, stressed the need for coordination of activities among districts within the GRR catchment.

"District councils are self-centered, they are mainly concerned with what is happening to water resources in their districts with little regard to what their counterparts are doing. This lack of coordination of activities accounts for little success of programmes because water resources transact district boundaries and thus implementation of projects should be done jointly," he said.

Msuya also cautioned on agriculture projects in the catchment calling for the need to review them so that the focus is on the quality of the outputs and not the number of projects being implemented at any given time. Following the discussions, stakeholders will now determine partnerships in implementation of programmes for GRR and solicit commitment for funds to implement the activities.

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