A Critical Call to Action: Tanzania’s Urgent Response to Climate-Induced Floods

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When the sun is aging and the tide is low, that’s when the most magic happens. A teenage boy leads a file of men, each boosting a certain nuance. Then run, delicate in their moves, before leaping off a cliff of concrete. And all that was child’s play because it’s in the air that their subtlety peaks as each tries to outdo the move before them.

Whoever’s holding the camera knows what to do. They follow the boy band, tracking them to the landing site—the blue of the Indian Ocean cut short by scores of dhows and fishermen unbothered by the cheers of tourists. The boys are making the famed Forodhani ocean jump in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It’s a marvel, one of the many places that Zanzibar peaks.

A closer look at this reveals something sinister. You see, the future dictates that the Indian Ocean will swallow this site, along with many others as it answers to global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperature is expected to rise by 1.5 degrees by 2050. Such a magnitude bears catastrophic consequences for the world since Earth’s ecosystems have evolved to work within thresholds not to be tampered with.

The advent of the industrial age began the blanketing of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Sun’s heat trapped in the blanket then led to global warming, this time at unprecedented rates. As for the sea, it traps most of the excess heat, mixes it via the current, and stores it. Whilst doing this, water molecules expand, causing a rise in sea level.

NASA projects that by 2050, the sea level will have risen by 65 centimeters. The nightmare this brings need not be told via projections; some islands have already sunk due to climate change. In the Solomon Islands, where sea levels rise three times higher than the global average, five islands have sunk since the turn of the 21st century.

Zanzibar is not immune to this, and neither are most of the world’s islands and coastal cities as they are to grapple with more than just rising seas. Trapped heat in the ocean is stored on the surface, leaving the deep cold—the perfect recipe for hurricanes. In the Indian Ocean, such a phenomenon is called the Indian Ocean Dipole, and it’s what will ravage islands and coastal cities like Hurricane Freddy did to Mozambique.

Scientifically land heats faster than sea. It is because of this that the land has been on a record-breaking spree, with 2023 tracking to be the hottest year on record. These numbers not only enhance droughts but also increase the rate of evaporation. Evaporated air will then combine with extra moisture-laden air from the oceans, bringing about intense precipitation in the form of heavy rain and storms.

By every metric, our future has along with droughts, a disrupted water cycle and harsh floods. All this calls for Tanzania to brace for the coming deluges. As of now, Tanzania has poor sewage and flood control measures. More can be done to address the current situation that seems bad even before much heavier climate-induced floods come. Sitting idle, waiting to address the issue in the future is a suicidal policy, one that will plunge the nation into heavy losses of life and infrastructure. Tanzania should;

Enact a “crimes against the future” law; Though we have done irreparable damage to the Earth, we could prevent future generations from receiving the very worst of climate change. For that, we should tighten environmental emissions laws and establish a threshold that when broken the repercussions for the polluter would be dire. We should first recognize ecocide as a crime just like Mexico and some countries are doing. Were such tight laws present during the River Mara waste scandal, more thorough investigations would be done since the future depends on the very natural resources we have now.

Modernizing Climate and Disaster tracking sectors. The nation should invest in AI, satellites, and modern disaster-fighting equipment. It’s crucial to have beforehand information on upcoming natural disasters. Even though we cannot yet forecast with certainty, we should have monitoring centers for earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes.

Real-time data, fed into an ever-growing technology industry ensures our preparedness should a disaster come.

Invest in modern resilient transport and sewage infrastructure; During the rainy season, Tanzania’s poor infrastructure is laid bare. It is not uncommon for lowly built bridges to be submerged or washed away, or for the rough roads to be unusable.

Also worse is the sewage direction network. It is weak if not non-existent. The government should build tunnels in urban areas to diverge flooding from civilian residences. These should be put as soon as possible not just for their economic importance but because of the sanitation benefits they carry.

Building levees; Rivers and streams susceptible to overflowing and in residential areas should be embarked. In their essence, levees also prevent erosion, increase habitable land, and divert water that can be used for agriculture. They come in handy in times of heavy rains and storms. Take for instance how embarking the Msimbazi River will prevent its basin from flooding, or widening the Mabatini River will make Mwanza more presentable.

Levees should not be unique to rivers; they should line the shores of the Indian Ocean in residential and business districts as our first line against hurricanes and overflow.

Developing sustainable green vegetation; Flora such as mangroves are a protective barrier due to their dense roots that bind and build soils. Their above-ground roots slow down water flows, encourage deposition of sediments and reduce erosion. Over time mangroves can actively build up soils, increasing the thickness of the mangrove soil, which may be critical as sea level rise accelerates. The government should thus reclaim lost mangroves in coastal regions as it also builds artificial sea barriers.

River training; The government should also install sediment control dams, boulders, and other such measures to train rivers into equilibrium so they don’t change course. These measures also aid rivers in maintaining water and sediment balances in order to protect alluvial fans from flooding and erosion. This way, flood management investment in downstream areas with large infrastructure like flood dikes and others can be reduced.

Terrain survey; With this climate, the government should also map the geography of the nation to identify flood-prone sectors. Data would then be used in planning for settlements, agriculture, infrastructure building, and disaster relief.

In 1953, the North Sea Floods submerged 20% of the Netherlands below mean sea level. A total of 1836 lives were lost in the country that the Greek geographer Pytheas noted as “a place where more people died in the struggle against water than in the struggle against men.” The Dutch, in retrospect, conjured an opportunity to never again experience such a tragedy by water.

They embarked on the Delta Works, a series of construction projects consisting of dams, sluices, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers. They also included a mass warning and evacuation system. Mainly, this was to shorten their coastline but could also aid in land reclamation and agriculture.

The system came in handy in 1995 when250,000 people were evacuated to avoid floods even though disaster didn’t strike. The works have been going through updates as the dangers and severity are expected to rise.

Not a single country is as well prepared for the deluges as the Netherlands, and that should be a point of concern. When the damn collapsed in Libya this September 4000 people died due to the unpreparedness and lack of action policy. It should not take the death of thousands for our government to wake up. It is about time we brace for the rising waters and the unpredictable precipitation. Yes, we do not have the financial muscle to pull the Delta Works now but at least let’s act on the feasible.

You may also read Defending the Coastline: Tanzania’s Response to Climate-Induced Sea Level Rise.

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