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Saturday, 27 March 2021

Narration of the victims of Lake Victoria flooding in Tanzania

By Mara Online News team

For people living around the shores of Lake Victoria on the Tanzanian side, the year 2020 will never be forgotten. The twin disasters — floods and the COVID-19 pandemic, that hit them hard disrupted social life and halted several economic activities including fishing, farming and the hotel industry. These activities used to be a major source of livelihood.

Mara, Mwanza, Simiyu and Kagera areas were adversely affected by floods that forced thousands of people to flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. Some ran to relatives, friends, good Samaritans while others opted to rent houses in safer places. Domestic animals were not spared as ravaging floods swept them away, killing several of them.

Nolasco Mgimba, a resident of Bweri in Mara region says the heavy floods and COVID -19 pandemic turned their area into, “hell on earth”.

 “When it started raining, we thought it was a normal rainy season, so we were not scared. We did not take any precautions,” says Mgimba adding that, “but as time went by, the rain surpassed its season and entered into February which is usually a dry month.”

This, he says, forced the water levels in Lake Victoria to rise subsequently submerging their houses.  “Our houses were submerged. We ran away for our lives. But since many families in this area are poor, some residents decided to stay,” says Mgimba. 

Michael Cassian, a resident of Mwigobero in Musoma Municipal Council, says his house that was situated near the Lake Victoria shoreline was swept away by floods. His family had to seek shelter at a relative’s house in Rwamlimi. He now says that the future looks bleak for him and his family since the government has barred them from resettling on the lake’s buffer zone.

 Economic activities take a dive due to floods

Gamba Machota, Marwa Chacha and Nyayala Christopher, all residents of Bunda in Butiama, Mara Region, are now living a hard life as the long journey to economic recovery from the effects of the floods continues. They say that their infrastructure was badly damaged by floods – forcing them to suspend business activities. 

Majura Maingu, the Managing Director of Victoria Farming and Fishing Organization (VIFAFIO), says that this year’s fishing and farming activities have been adversely affected by floods. “It was a painful experience. The heavy downpour killed the farmers’ hope. The floods ravaged their gardens and killed some of their animals,’’ Maingu says adding that some farmers cannot afford the cost of food today. 

Fishing boats grounded

In the aftermath of the floods, it became evidently clear that fishermen would bear the brunt of the destruction. Often, fish reproduce in the edge and perforation of lakes and rivers. But when rainfall increased, the water levels in Lake Victoria went up; forcing fish to migrate to other comfortable areas. This has resulted into a deep decline of fish catch in the area.   

The fishing community says that there is an acute shortage of fish due to rising water levels. They observe that their theory that if water level increases, fish would be plenty has been proven wrong. The surge in water levels has not only affected fishing but navigation as well. 

The crews operating vessels in the lake are grappling with seaweed, a growth hindering smooth embarking and disembarking of passengers and loading and unloading of cargo. “The fishermen have resolved to ground their vessels to mitigate high operational costs, as they cannot continue incurring losses,’’ says Maingu. 

Assisting Farmers in minimising losses

According to Maingu, VIFAFIO is committed to addressing issues concerning farming and fishing while guaranteeing the protection of water sources. ‘’We advise farmers not to conduct any farming activities within the distance of 60 metres from a water source. The problem however, is that when the level of water rises, the distance also extends.

A farmer who may have planted his crops before the rise, gets disappointed during flooding season as he will find the gardens within the prohibited 60 metres. It is a huge challenge,’’ he explains. 

He also says the association has advised the authorities to erect beacons for easy identification of the boundaries with river banks and lake shoreline, to avert disasters and encroachment. 

VIFAFIO also wants authorities to put in place demarcation showing the longest distance reached by water, to help people steer clear of the danger zone adding that without demarcation, people will build houses, plant and carry out other activities- oblivious of looming danger. 

A section of houses and business premises submerged in water in the aftermath of Lake Victoria flooding in Mara Region

Sharp rise of water above sea level 

According to Lake Victoria Basin Water Board ( LVBWB) in Mara Region which is a section in the Ministry of Water in Tanzania, the rising water levels of Lake Victoria is as a result of heavy rains.  

Engineer Mwita Mataro, an official from Mara –Mori Catchment which is under LVBWB says that this year’s rainfall has had a damaging effect on economic activities and infrastructure, including houses, hotels, crops and bridges.

Mataro says water level in the lake rose to 1,134.85 metres above sea level, adding that the highest level recorded in the history of the lake was 1,134.27 Metres above sea level in 1965, some 55 years ago. 

Mataro also reminded people that the Lake Victoria flooding was a result of a recurring hydrological phenomenon, adding that the government and LVBWB are undertaking educating people to refrain from building houses in the 60 metres limit of the sea, lake or river channels.

 

The LVBWB Public Relations Engineer Gerald Itimbula urged people living in the lakeside in the regions of Mwanza, Mara , Geita, Simiyu and Kagera to heed to advice and take precautions and where necessary vacate the danger zone sooner than later. 

According to the UN-run Flood and Drought Portal, the swelling of Lake Victoria has been caused by increased rainfall and a spike in runoff into rivers and streams that feed the lake, originating from countries such as Rwanda and Burundi along with the three countries that border the lake: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania .

The body adds that runoff has risen due to heavy rainfall combined with urbanization and agriculture, as humans convert land that naturally absorbs water, such as forests and wetlands, to cities or farms. 

Data from the UN-run Flood and Drought Portal shows that runoff in all four sub-regions bordering Lake Victoria increased 575 percent in the last four months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018 adding that rainfall in the regions surrounding the lake also increased 162 percent from September to December 2019, compared to the same period the year before.

A climate change simulation on the same portal showed that rainfall in the Lake Victoria region is expected to rise by about 10 percent in the next 16 years compared to the last 16. Runoff in the Simiyu and Kagera lakeside regions in Tanzania, which contain Lake Victoria's main feeder river, River Kagera, is also expected to rise by about 54 and 50 percent respectively. 

Mara RC urges people to take warnings seriously 

In a visit to the Sota fishing site in Rorya, Mara Regional Commissioner Adam Malima implored fishermen to be wary of the rising Lake Victoria water levels.

This story was produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from the Pulitzer Center and National Geographic Society.

 

 

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