Current Water Scarcity Problems Facing Tanzania

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GRACE stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. In 2002 NASA launched this new mission to uncover information about the Earth’s gravity field and how this affects global change. This brand new technology makes detailed measurements of the Earth’s gravity field and has been able to provide detailed information about the Earth’s water reservoirs over land, ice and oceans, as well as earthquakes and crustal deformations.

The GRACE mission was able to give crucial data on terrestrial water storage in different regions. The data on terrestrial water storage (TWS), written by Rodell, has identified regions where the TWS data has been experiencing trends below previous ranges and where groundwater is being withdrawn at an unsustainable rate. It examined 34 regions that have shown a shift. A fascinating region that has been noticing changes is Southeast Africa (region 31). There has been noticeable changes like a severe drought and a decrease in precipitation. However, the TWS data presented does not tell the whole story about the impact it is leaving on the environment and the people who live there. Compared to different regions around the world, the people in Southeast Africa are more susceptible to a loss of resources in a place where they are already scarce, and there is not a strong government in place to support the habitants. Specifically, Tanzania has been facing many water issues that has been affecting numerous amounts of people. Tanzania mainly relies on piped water systems in regards to big cities like Dodoma or Dar Es Salaam and receives their water from the country’s rivers. The country also utilizes groundwater in order to meet the demand. In rural areas, water comes from surface water like rivers and springs and from groundwater accessed through wells.

However, as water scarcity becomes more of a problem in Tanzania, many of the wells are dry, and will only be useful if they were to be dug deeper. Furthermore, because of the lack of adequate technology many pipes often times get damaged and this leads to contaminated water. Tanzania does have a lot of potential because of the nearby water sources like Lake Victoria. On the other hand, it is hard to predict the weather in the region. There has been data showing heavy rain in different seasons and light rains when not expected. People who depend primarily on precipitation depend on rainfall at a specific time in order to make a living and stay alive.

Finally, there is a heavy reliance on river basins. Tanzania has nine water basins, the biggest one being the Usangu basin; it is utilized mainly for irrigation. The main water resources that Tanzania has in place are unreliable and not sustainable to the rapid urbanization occurring. It is essential to have clean accessible water in Tanzania because many health issues can arise without it. Currently there are many areas that do not have access to such means. As an outcome sanitation is untenable, which leads to various diseases. Water that is available is contaminated with fecal matter or ran through pipes that contain bacteria. Groundwater is also being affected in coastal regions, especially in Zanzibar; saltwater is starting to contaminate the freshwater sources (UNICEF). As a result of not having an adequate amount of freshwater families are forced to clean dishes, bathe, and wash hands with contaminated water. Droughts are not new to Tanzania, but this past year the country has experienced one of the worst ones in history and has left numerous families displaced. This 18 month drought was caused by El Nino along with higher temperatures than past years.

Along with unpredictable rainfall problems, many people are struggling with how to continue to sustain themselves. This past summer I traveled to Longido, a small town in the region of Arusha, Tanzania. I stayed at a Maasai boma for about two weeks, here, I had the opportunity to learn about their culture and way of living. The Maasai are pastoralists and live exclusively off the land. This means that regular rain patterns and temperature play a crucial role in order for survival. During my stay I witnessed how much my family was struggling to get water, food, and keep their livestock alive. Each village in the Longido area lost nearly 75 to 90 percent of cattle due to drought.

The Maasai depend on their livestock to make a living; it allows families to sell milk, cheese, and eggs at markets. They also move their cattle and goats depending on rainfall to ensure that they are properly fed and have enough water. With very unpredictable and loss in rainfall, there is no way to know where or when to get the resources needed. I saw cattle with their ribs showing and several of their goats so weak they could not stand up. We would wake up at 5 in the morning to go on the journey to get water from the only well in this area, which was about 6 miles away. It would take about half the day to get the water, which my mama Raheli told me, “sio safi, ” which means not clean. We each had on our backs 20 pounds of water that would last only about two days. Meanwhile, the men of the household were taking the cattle to graze, which would be an all day affair to find sufficient amount of grazing land. Water security is a also growing problem. I noticed many empty huts surrounding the one I was staying in. Raheli told me that they had to move to the city because all of their livestock had died and they needed to find some other means of living. The drought drove people to leave their culture that they hold most important to them and their families. Longido is also facing deforestation hardships. Households rely primarily on firewood for cooking and it is needed in large quantities.

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Deforestation also contributes to global warming because there are fewer trees to act as a carbon sink and absorb excess carbon. It also leads to a loss of soil fertility (Williams). However, there is no other means or technology available for these rural areas. Raheli explained to me that they used to be a 10 minute walk away from a wood fire source, but having the whole community collecting excessive amounts of firewood on a daily basis has depleted the resource. Instead, Raheli, myself, and her two daughters walked 4 hours to the bottom of Mount Longido to collect firewood. As more people become aware of this supply, it will soon run out as well. Having a limited amount of firewood restricts what meals can be prepared. Loss of firewood means that there are less hot meals. Loss of hot meals means that adults and children are not eating nutritious food to keep them healthy. This especially harms the children who are still growing and need nourishing food. During my stay we primarily ate slices of bread and drank chai. It is hard for these villages because the government does not know where a lot of people even occupy land, because of this there is no aid helping these villages. The shortage of water creates an even larger scale problem.

Violence has been a problem like in every place in the world. When drought occurs or rainfall has not come, crop growth stops, incomes decrease, and people are struggling to get food and water. This allows for potential civil conflict. Farmers in the past have gotten into arguments over where to get water from and using land for their cattle to graze from ares not owned by them. My homestay mom told me a story on how a farmer speared another farmer’s cow because it was grazing on a corner of land owned by him. This led to a conflict comprised of all the surrounding villages whether that was justifiable act or not. The argument never ended up getting resolved and a week later another cow and goat were speared not knowing who had done it. This is where policies need to be put into place. As Cimons mentions, there needs to be policies created to mitigate climate change so there could potentially be drought-resistant crops, investment in irrigation, or the development of tools to help soil retain water. Over 70 percent of the population rely on agriculture in order to make a living. The main crops produced in Tanzania are coffee, sisal, cashew nuts, tea, cotton, and tobacco. Crops produced that are exported or sold domestically, make up a huge part of the country’s GDP. As explained before, in recent years and currently, livestock is dying because of the lack of water. In Longido, the people solely depend on cattle and their crops to make an income. If there is infertile soil due to no rain, crops will die and or not be able to produce the mass quantities needed. At the home I stayed at, they grew sugar cane, but haven’t been able to harvest in the past year because of the lack of water.

Pests and diseases are also taking over the crops–increasing due to the warming temperatures. One morning we went on a mountain bike ride in the Speke Bay region, and along the way, as we peddled about two hours alongside cotton fields, I noticed how many were dead. My profesor explained how many farmers are struggling with water availability. Due to the water shortage, farmers also do not have the help they need to attend to the crops because they cannot compensate them. Even some farmers have abandoned their fields to find opportunities in the city. Floods are among many of the problems Tanzania faces today. The country has had several severe floods that displaced many people and homes. A flood occurs when water overflows land that’s normally dry. The most common is when rivers or streams overflow their banks.

Floods are even more destructive in Tanzania because they do not have the proper infostructure to contain them from causing minimal destruction in rural areas and cities. In March 2015 the Shinyanga Region experienced a very devastating flood, it killed over 82 people and completely wiped out maize fields in various regions. During a flood in Tanzania rescue relief is very difficult because of roads blocked off and there is no way to reach people who are stuck. Furthermore, it is hard for farmers to come back from that because they do not have money or government help to fix the damage. In different countries they have the resources to give people enough time to prepare and provide help if needed. In Tanzania, past floods were not discovered till it was too late and people were not prepared; so they lost everything. Even though floods are devestaing in any place they occur, it leaves more damage and lasting repercussions for undeveloped countries. From 2011-2017 California experienced one of the worst droughts ever experienced in the state. Starting from 2011 California had a total rainfall less than 34% of what was expected and an unusual height in temperature. California also relies heavily on groundwater for households and agriculture, but with the drought it has been depleting and wells are not able to be dug deeper that have run dry. Many areas in California now need to have their water trucked in and have to resort to using bottled water. Not to imply that these issues are not important and has not impacted California dramatically, but across the globe in Tanzania, the country has been faced with the same devastating drought; however, the repercussions are completely different. California farmers still have live cattle and were able to sell them to other farmers who were able to support the cattle and had access to some sort of water system. Residents also had inconveniences of not being able to wash their car and having brown lawns.

The region did face wildfire issues and households having to get water from alternate sources; but Californians had back up plans to at the bare minimum to provide clean water for people. Tanzania on the other hand, completely lost their cattle and are struggling to have access to clean drinking water. In conclusion, the GRACE period recorded data starting from 2002 has shown significant precipitation decrease–almost 4% below the normal average; and there is a prediction for a 6% decrease during this century in Southeast Africa.

Southeast Africa, and more specifically Tanzania has experienced water scarcity due to droughts and flooding. The water sources that they have are unreliable because of climate change, natural disasters, and undeveloped technology. Anyone can read data showing the current problems facing Tanzania, but that does not show the hardships of the people who live there. It is crucial that policies start to be put in place in order to help the people that have nowhere else to turn to.

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