Today, Embrace Relief Foundation organized an Inaugural Roundtable Discussion Series on the 2022 World Water Day zooming on groundwater as a hidden (invisible) resource worth making known (visible). I also thank colleagues at the Politurco Forum, who thought I could contribute some related experiences from the United Republic of Tanzania located on the western rim of the Indian Ocean. Tanzania is one of the member countries of the East African Community (EAC), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).
I have written about crop growing, livestock keeping and aquafarming – all of which essentially revolve on the axis of groundwater. The main players in Tanzania are smallholders, mostly using artisanal tools. Though a product of rural Tanzania, the base of my practice has been Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital, home to about 10% of the population, now closing on to about 60 million people. Over the past five decades, I have combed much of urban and rural areas. I have been a Fellow UN FAO Journalist since 1975.
The relevance on this year’s Water Day theme: “Making the invisible visible” is clear when about two-thirds of all abstracted groundwater is used in agriculture and a quarter of energy used globally is spent on food production and supply, including groundwater pumping. In the wake of possible overdependence on abstracted water due to population rises, a threat for food production decline becomes real if there is no sharing of knowledge about the importance of this resource and, therefore, its proper handling.
It is here that I remember an observation repeatedly made by my rural mother, who died about three decades ago at the age of 80. Illiterate as our modern world would prefer to categorize her, she used to tell me “amaizi gaba mwoyo” – meaning “water is the heart”. To her, this resource is more than its conventional concept link to life. I wish she were here to share her views with us. When she came to visit me in the Dar es Salaam city, she was surprised when I told her I was going to pay for my water bill. She could not understand a policy and practice of anyone having to sell water, a free gift from God. She saw this act as inhumane unethical.
A combination of this ordinary person’s vision on water and its use in the wake of population rise and subsequent human activities brings us to a situation on the ground when members and partners of the United Nations Water have to sit down and consider all aspects connecting water to life on our planet. The resource is a right to man as it is to other animals, plants and insects. Where does one set the equilibrium in terms of availability and its use – groundwater abstraction in this case?
This draws in the question of sustainability as enshrined in six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are Poverty eradication (1); Food security –quantity and quality–(2); Gender equality (5); Sustainable cities and human settlements (11); Combating climate change (13); and protecting terrestrial ecosystems (15). It raises issues of food security, irrigation, energy and water-energy-food nexus. All said, this boils down to WASH (water, sanitation and health) encompassing non-transmitted diseases, provision of evidence-based norms of water quality in terms of drinking water, wastewater use, recreational water and sanitation.
Without a reliable source of water, of which groundwater is a major component, there is no sustainable supply, and the costs usually go beyond the pocket of the poor, raising equity issues. Alternatively, people are forced to fetch water from the nearest available source which is often contaminated and located at a distance from the respective households. And this burden is usually borne squarely on the shoulders of women and the girl child in our traditional rural societies and mushrooming urban settlements, further calling for gender address policies and programmes. While the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has supported water drilling programmes and incorporating good practices into programmes and advocacy, the World Bank (WB) has assisted the SADC member countries to establish a Groundwater Management Institute (GMI) as a regional center of excellence for sustainable management of groundwater.
Tanzania Groundwater story
Groundwater is a vital source of urban and rural water supply in Tanzania. Municipalities like Dar es Salaam the commercial capital); Dodoma (the government seat); Arusha, the Geneva of Africa; and Moshi, the home to Africa’s highest peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro, largely depend on groundwater just as is the case with many rural water supply schemes.
According to the Ministry of Water (2009), the current volume of groundwater used across the country is 1,265,000 cubic meters per day which is estimated to be 12% of the total available (11MCM) per day. By category, the main users of groundwater are urban supply (10%), rural (50%), agriculture (10%), industry and mining (2%) of the total volume. The share of other users, including livestock keeping and dryland fish farming (aquaculture), is 28% of the total volume. Groundwater quality in Tanzania is generally considered good with a few scattered exceptions. On the quantity side, there is inadequate data and information on major aquifers. Even by 2020, available quotable data went back to about a decade and half.
As far as policy issues are concerned, all phases of the Tanzania government over the six decades since independence have shown different commitment levels to water services supply and management combining enactment of respective empowerment legal frameworks and decentralization mix. For sustainable rural water services, village councils and community water supply organizations have proved to be more effective than dependence on the range of Water Resource Management (WRM) laws enacted in parliament. There has been a positive indicator towards conjunctive use, managed aquifer recharge and suitable treatment measures being vital for making groundwater a strategic resource on the urban agenda for Tanzania.
Support to village (rural) groundwater-fed irrigation for agricultural production presents itself as another potential intervention area for poverty reduction by raising smallholder crop production and productivity resulting in higher household incomes from the same area of land put under cultivation. It makes real impact as a response to climate change where droughts and deficient rainfall are prevalent.
Many international charity organizations, the likes of Time to Help in Tanzania, have so far concentrated on the provision of clean and safe water. Others have prioritized the issue of sanitation. This is perfectly OK. It is now time to go into other areas like supporting community irrigation schemes and aquafarming for the sake of enough food supply and security integrated with improved nutrition. This is what will go a long way to put in place the fullest intervention for the attainment of targets set in the bag of Sustainable Development Goals. The agenda year 2030 in not very far from here.
Thank you for your time and welcome to Tanzania.