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The El Nino Outlook and Drama Around Flooding in Tanzania;  Does History and Science Work Concomitantly?

El Nino

Tanzania Flood: Devastation due to severe flood in Tanzania. (Photo: Reuters)

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Why should Tanzania celebrate the staggering achievements of Hydroelectric Power (JNHPP) in the Rufiji River? This may be a very intricate question amidst Tanzania’s encountering the El Nino-induced severe impacts from ongoing floodings and uneven rainfall across the country; worse enough when people in Rufiji suffer ad lib tum while we expect them to be in celebrations.

This has spoiled the entire story, invited some slanting opinions while little is known or less acknowledged over the cause of the situation, and missed the wide picture locally, even beyond the region. What is it that is spoiling the good image? Herein is the brief clarity.

El Nino causes the current rainfall and the resulting flooding. What is El Nino? It is a climate pattern with unusual warming characteristics on the surface waters, mostly in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it significantly affects weather patterns worldwide, including normal or above-normal rainfall.

In East African countries, heavy rainfall has vividly manifested these impacts with massive flooding, landslides, mudflow, and several related impacts across many places. This is the same as recorded in Rufiji, Lindi, Mbeya, Arusha, Morogoro, and many other places in Tanzania. Eventually, the post-disaster has been coupled with many arguments from those trying to air their opinions over the cause, making it uncertain and contrary to existing scientific and historical data.

The Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) 2023 issued an alert that several parts of the country would have encountered maximum or even above-average rainfalls. It was proven true some months ago when some parts of Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and elsewhere recorded extreme rainfalls.

The destruction was used to measure the height of devastation behind these rainfalls. It came to pass that the forecasted downpours have continued to date in different parts of the country, as indicated on the outlook.

Read Related: Government Briefing Highlights: Addressing Uncertainties Around Rufiji Floods.

Rufiji flooding resulting from the ongoing rainfall, as forecasted, is also not a surprise. Although several complaints have been targeted towards different causes, it appeals to our mind that even with such causes being blamed, the flooding in this area has been recorded over many years.

When uttered, the name Rufiji reminds of Ikwiriri, Mhoro, Utete, and Somanga, which brings in a certain feeling of despair that used to be common in those days. Those days when Mtwara, Lindi, and Dar es Salaam were far apart, thanks to the Mkapa bridge, which shortened the route. Gone are the old days when the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam safari used to last for a week or even more.

Generally, Rufiji’s stories of flooding go back to the 1960s, from 1978 to 1998 and later to 2020. It may have happened and passed without thorough discussion over the causes of the tremendous impacts it resulted in the past incidences. However, this year, apart from the common causes, a unique cause is claimed to be the newly constructed Mwalimu Nyerere Hydroelectrical Power Station (MNHP).

This is one of the controversial viewpoints, and most people have started painting a negative image of the dam. The routine technique of opening the gate to release water for whatever reasons has now become a capital for those whispers. The question is whether the dam was the cause of flooding in the past, even before it existed!

The TMA and other agencies, including media outlets, expounded on the discussion, particularly after the flooding in Dar es Salaam. It was widely discussed, and ElNino was said to be in action, which would have recalled the memories and the devastation it caused in the past.

Even without notice or further convincing arguments, it should have signalled the need for preparedness. Preparing for the anticipated disaster was now an urgent step that would have been followed. Who exactly was required to draw attention and get prepared? Whose preparedness mattered, and how? This issue is now in our hands: where we have failed as citizens, and wherever the agencies have failed, the citizens should not divert the energy needed to arrest the current situation.

The immediate humanitarian needs are now provided, and the responsible government organs are actively in action. The number of needy people is increasing while several other sectors are shutting down their services, such as schools, after being submerged. Several others are inaccessible due to a breakdown of communication infrastructure in terms of roads and telecommunication. These pressing needs need to be addressed and focused on to eliminate chances of escalating to higher levels of impact, such as diseases.

Parallelly, the increasingly diverted opinions that may cross political landscapes must be handled carefully. The politicising of every agenda is becoming the order of the day and eventually counteracts the relative efforts to combat the situation. Those who believe that the dam caused the flooding may be using it as a political vehicle.

Capitalization in this direction twists the agenda against the positive effects of the dam. This is a point of view where common ‘Mwananchi’ may be trapped in this argument and blame the dam as the main cause of flooding. If we try another viewpoint, the dam contains water that would flood directly into the settlements, and release is controlled with awareness of volume. It speaks for itself that the dam is an essential feature and should not be connected to the current flooding in Rufiji.

Also, read: Climate Change: Tanzania’s Rigorous Path to a Sustainable Future.

Little is being spoken, either intentionally or out of ignorance, about the geographical condition of the Rufiji area. As it is referred to as the delta, it is a low-lying land at the mouth of the river Rufiji that pours water into the Indian Ocean.

Rufiji is, therefore, an outstanding location as an anchor economically, ecologically, geologically, biophysically, environmentally, and the list goes on. In such a position, it is, therefore, a politically sensitive area, especially under the challenge of flooding and how to manage it. Suggestions and opinions are just floating across for various intentions.

Delta, or called the alluvial plain, is a deposit site for the alluvial, which contains eroded soil and debris from the upcountry. Remember that the Rufiji River is the longest in the country, draining about 20%, and is formed by two major distributaries of the Great Ruaha, Kiombero, and Luwengu Rivers.

It forms an area of about 500 km2 of mangrove forest, almost at sea level or below. Therefore, it stands as a flood area and is important when it rains upland.

While trying to find somewhere to divert blame and complain, it is worth considering the incident’s natural cause. Regardless of the contingency plan in place and the earlier El Nino Outlook 2023-24 by the World Food Program (WFP) for East Africa, the effects are yet devastating based on historical data and trends.

Some contributing factors may be local and some human-induced, but what is happening now should have been taken care of under careful preparedness for El Nino. However, as the saying goes, there were not enough resources, and they were always meagre. Therefore, with science in place and historical data to back up, loose ends still need to be tied.

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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Eng.Philipo Santos
Eng.Philipo Santos
1 month ago

The good write but the goverment not in look for the reducing efect of floods

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