Pangani — Conflicts over water are increasing in the sprawling Pangani River Basin in northeastern Tanzania as farmers and herders jostle for dwindling water resources in the face of climate change.
Over the past decade, Maasai pastoralists from the northern areas of Moshi and Arusha have been streaming towards the basin with tens of thousands of their cattle in search of water and grazing pasture.
Hafsa Mtasiwa, the Pangani district commissioner, told IPS that the Maasais' traditional land was strained by overuse of water resources and overgrazing. She said in the last three years 2,987 herders with 87,1321 cows and 98,341 goats moved into the basin's low land, destroying arable land.
"This issue should have been resolved a long time ago had there been clear demarcation." -- Omar Kibwana, a local government official
She said that although the government of this East African nation was trying to control the influx into the basin, a lack of policy coordination between relevant regional authorities made this difficult.
"This is a very complex issue whose solution requires a general consensus between the fighting groups. You don't simply chase away cattle keepers. We must educate them on the need to respect the rights of the others," she said.
The Pangani River Basin, which sprawls across 48,000 square kilometres, is already stressed as it faces continued demands on its water resources and ecosystems.
According to the Water and Nature Initiative of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the basin has a population of 3.4 million people, "80 percent of whom rely on small-scale farming. Ecosystems are in decline and, with aquatic resources supplying up to 25 percent of household income in parts of the basin, the poorest are those most affected by declining water levels."
Statistics from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) show rainfall patterns across many parts of the Pangani River Basin have drastically dropped in the past 10 years. Some areas that recorded 990 mm of rainfall a decade ago receive almost half of this now.
"The impacts of climate change are very difficult to foresee, they keep changing from time to time. It could start with drought then abruptly switch to floods, the important thing is for the people to adapt," TMA's director general Agnes Kijazi told IPS by phone.
What little water there is, is mostly used for irrigation and electricity generation. The Clim-A-Net project, which aims to develop scientific knowledge on climate change, states on its website that "almost 90 percent of the surface flow in the Pangani Basin is used for irrigation and hydropower generation."
"We are spending sleepless nights just finding water, the little we get we feed our cattle. We have lost so many cows ... The people here should also understand the situation we are in," Vincent Ole Saidim, a Maasai youth living in Pangani, told IPS.
But farmers here complain about the number of cattle that enter their fields, destroying crops and irrigation structures in the process.
"These Maasai are very selfish people, they think they are always right, even when they destroy other people's lives. I can't bear them, they should go back to where they belong," Mwasiti, Isinika a farmer in Pangani, told IPS.
Residents from the region told IPS that over the last six months tensions between farmers and herders have been ongoing and many feel that there is no end in sight.
The most recent incident that IPS noted occurred in August in Makenya village, a community of 600 people located about 19 km from the basin's Pangani Town. According to residents, a scuffle involving farmers and pastoralists ensued when 24 herders attempted to take over the village's central water source in order to feed their animals. The villagers managed to remove them and no deaths were reported.
However, two years ago in Mbuguni village, which is about 18 km from Pangani Town, four farmers were hacked to death by angry Maasai morans (warriors) as they tried to stop a group of cattle from trampling on their maize seedlings.
Omar Kibwana, a local government official from Mbuguni village, told IPS that conflict was rife because the government was reluctant to create borders separating farmers from pastoralists.
"This issue should have been resolved a long time ago had there been clear demarcation," he said.
The Pangani Basin Water Board said it was aware of the challenges here.
Arafa Maggidi, an engineer from Pangani Basin Water Authority, told IPS that while climate change was the main reason for the reduced water supply here, other factors such as deforestation, increasing number of livestock, and an expansion of farming activities contributed.
"The threat of climate change and the need to adapt cannot be over emphasised. We are trying our very best to educate the people to change their life styles, they must understand by destroying environment they are preparing for their own suffering," Maggidi said.
"We strongly believe that successful management of the water resources has to integrate all environmental, economic and social demands," he said.
Going forward, scientists predict increasing temperatures, reduced rainfall and ultimately less water.
According to Pius Yanda, a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam who is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a rise of between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees Celsius, decreasing rainfall and increased evaporation in the river basin can be expected before the end of the century.
But as they face an uncertain future, people here recall better times when the river was full and its flow was guaranteed throughout the year.
"The river has lost all its old glory, some of the fish species have also disappeared, how disgusting," Fundi Mhegema, a villager at Buyuni village in Pangani, told IPS.