East Africa: Climate Change Is Cruel, So When It Rains Lives Are Lost

After nearly two weeks of watching weather reports on what should be happening across the wet belt of Africa and looking outside to vengeful rains beating down on our pavements and bare heads, the skies have opened. It is a blessing. It is a curse.

Welcome to a new and intermittent series of articles where I grapple with questions and challenges posed to me as a parting gift from a reader who has relocated to another East African city. This week's topic is: "Why is it that every year people have to die in Dar es Salaam when it rains?"

The short answer is we are not respecting nature and building our city to the best standards of environmental management.

Anyone who remembers their rain cycle and other water stuff from geography knows that water will always find its way.

As a child when the city was really a glorified town, we would be packed up in the back of a pickup truck (Datsun, of course) and travel from the relative civilisation of Mikocheni A to what would become Mikocheni B to visit family friends. At the time there was no construction on Old Bagamoyo Road on the right-hand side where the wetlands were.

Nothing but cattails sticking out of the marshes for miles, until you got to Nyerere's house which was the demarcation at the end of civilisation. Beyond that, you were going into the bush, in the Tanga za Nyika. This journey took hours.

There were tens of millions of us then, and Dar couldn't have had more than two million people if I am being generous. Land was plenty and a vague nod towards planning codes for construction.

The Jangwani floodplain was unoccupied as the wave of rural to urban migration was yet to come. Then, when it rained, we rejoiced at the cooling of the air and as children took off to chase tadpoles in the larger puddles, competing with ducks and ignoring the infuriated admonishments of our parents who feared we would contract every tropical disease under the sun. We didn't.

I sit typing this in the same ancient house that I used to escape from barefoot on rainy days, listening to the rainwater collection drum we have set outside sing its song.

Over years of grading our road, it has risen so water no longer drains outwards; it collects in the backyard. There are walls separating houses that were not there before, for our security... keeping the water in. I need not switch on the TV to know that Jangwani is in distress, as are other places where property and lives are lost. We took the idea of 'dominion over all things' to heart and built our concrete jungle.

We can expect increased waterborne infections like cholera. Mosquitos will breed and this time we might have to watch for dengue in addition to the traditional malaria.

I am told that the sheer weight of concrete and people is also making Dar 'sink' slightly. And that is why, dear reader, every year people have to die in Dar es Salaam when it rains.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report.

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