Surging Lake Victoria and Earthquakes Threaten Bukoba – What’s Next?

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A former chairman of CCM in the Kagera Region Pius Ngeze called and addressed a press conference that raised issues pertinent to the sustenance of the municipality of Bukoba. Part of his lamentations, Bukoba was a besieged city by earthquakes, twisters and flooding that are strong and frequent.

The surging Lake Victoria is submerging buildings, strong winds are also ravaging the town. In his heartfelt submissions, he called for the government to form a probe team, have a permanent base for research and reassure the residents that all is not lost. This article looks at his disposition and raises other relevant issues as well.

What Do We Learn From the History of Bukoba?

Bukoba is a city with a population of 144,938 (2022 census), situated in the northwest of Tanzania on the south-western shores of Lake Victoria. It is the capital of the Kagera region and the administrative seat of Bukoba Urban District.

The city is served by Bukoba Airport and regular ferry connections to and from Mwanza, as well as roads to Uganda’s Rakai District for cross-border commuters. Plans are underway for a standard gauge railway to Uganda. Situated on the southwestern shores of Lake Victoria, Bukoba lies only 1 degree south of the Equator.

Bukoba is situated on the south-western shores of Lake Victoria in the north-western region of Tanzania. The regional capital and Kagera’s biggest town is the gateway to the region. Bukoba is currently Tanzania’s second largest port on Lake Victoria after Mwanza.

Who is Pius Ngeze?

An octogenarian, mzee Pius Ngeze, was once a kingpin of CCM politics in the Kagera region holding various positions including Regional chairmanship, and a biographical book was penned down by Rev. Privatus Karugendo to commemorate his long, illustrious public life. The book is called “Pius Bakengera Ngeze: maisha yake na baada ya miaka 70” – Rev. Privatus Karugendo. The literary works were in 2013 when Mzee Ngeze clocked 70 years of age.

His Contribution to Ecological Issues in Bukoba

According to Mzee Ngeze, several natural forces are besieging Bukoba Town that demand scientific research to unravel the mysteries that may shape and guide Town planning, settlement and development there. As far as he is concerned, Bukoba may be sitting on tectonic activities that present an existential threat to the sustenance of the township.

Mzee Ngeze took his audience through historical facts he had gathered through his curiosity, inquisition of the past elders and careful observations. His conclusions indicated all is not well.

From historical recollection, he has learnt that Lake Victoria was once sprawling most of the town but through esoteric explanations, the Lake shrank away from the town permitting human settlement as seen today. However, the Lake is reclaiming lost lands culminating in floods that are increasingly becoming frequent, forceful and unpredictable.

Read Related: Preserving Lake Victoria: Addressing Ecological Threats to Africa’s Largest Lake

Mzee Ngeze suspects there could be an association between strong earthquakes that have beset the town recently, and floods and twisters on the other hand. He is also adequately informed on sources of El-Nino were a result of oceanic activities provoked by earthquakes, and his beloved town could be facing similar destructive forces that may over time make Bukoba inhabitable.

Of more significance, is the inability of the Municipal authorities to stem the Lake tide despite erecting concrete levees that the surging waters have regularly breached resulting in floods. Some high-rise buildings are sinking and others are bending threatening adjacent structures and humanity around. Mzee Ngeze suspects Bukoba could be a swampy area due to rising levels of waters above sea level, and that too ought to be diligently studied, and monitored.

Mzee Ngeze also talked at great length about lake twisters that are also on an upbeat path and unpredictable. He intoned such strong whirlwinds are new, and he understands that some escapologists will dismiss them as part and parcel of global warming but he was adamant a combination of earthquakes, twisters and flooding are beyond explanations expounded by that distraction!

At the end of his dissemination, Mzee Ngeze recommends weather authorities relocate some of their resources to Bukoba for continual studying of the natural phenomena engulfing the area. He mused what the use of future and current investment in Bukoba if the area will be determined inhabitable meaning the cost of taming the Furious Lake are higher than the benefits accrued.

In other words, suppose cost-benefit analysis some later days comes to a regrettable conclusion that Bukoba is beyond salvaging. What will we do after throwing money in a lost cause as if it is business as usual while it is not?

Mzee Ngeze Has a Valid Point!

Once levees have been breached and water floods the town it is a matter of major concern. The last earthquake was felt as far as Nairobi where cracks were seen in tall rising buildings. An earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale struck on September 10th in the Kagera region, in the far northwest of the country.

Reports vary on the precise extent of damage caused, but at least 19 people died as a result, and over 500 were injured, the majority in and around the town of Bukoba or in Missenyi District to the north. Over 2, 000 buildings were destroyed and thousands more were damaged. Damage and deaths were also reported in neighbouring Uganda, though the effects of the quake were much smaller.

Also, read: MV Bukoba Tragedy: A Reflection on Unchecked Power and the Need for Constitutional Reforms

For obvious reasons, if there is any linkage between surging floods and earthquakes is worthy of studying and recommendations drawn out. One of the disturbing questions is whether the earthquake epicentre is inside Lake Victoria or outside it. That determination is crucial to appreciate whether the Tsunami or floods is a major possibility to affect the township. If so, the urgency of the matter should assume new heights.

Twisters depending on frequency and strength may affect decisions for future investments of the Bukoba Airport. Recent experience reminds us of the Precision Air plane that fell in Bukoba, windy rains and poor visibility were identified as some of the reasons for the accident albeit one CNN aviation expert ruled out weather as a culprit claiming the type of plane was no longer allowed in developed world due to inability to cope with the challenges imposed by bad weather.

All in all more information about the possibility of interference of air travel and location of the Bukoba Airport are beneficial to the safety of civil aviation.

My Recommendations

Mzee Ngeze’s seminal contributions should never be taken lightly but with the due weight it deserves because that could be a matter of life and death to the tens of thousands of people dwelling there, and their possessions. We have a long-established reactive habit instead of honing a proactive culture. Lame excuses of “…ajali haina kinga….” have run their cause in this information age.

In case we lack the expertise to carry out meaningful studies let us outsource the technical proficiency, and bring the matter to a decisive conclusion. Doing less is unacceptable!

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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