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Dar es Salaam flooding: Need to look beyond valley dwellers

Dar es Salaam flooding: Need to look beyond valley dwellers

The purpose of 'Daily News'is not to evaluate the rescue mechanisms which were found to be greatly wanting, but to discuss how officialdom has always seen the dwellers in river and stream valleys as the main cause of disasters related with floods in: the dwellers in river. They do not cause the floods, but because they live in flood-prone areas they subject themselves, their property and the nation at large to dangers and destructions caused by flooding. This focus on the valley people has a long history.

Way back in 1998, the then Dar es Salaam City Commission carried out a survey and identified some 5,700 houses which were constructed in valleys liable to flooding. These houses were earmarked for demolition. This created a political saga. Many valley dwellers said flooding (which came only occasionally) was not their major problem compared to lack of land, preferred locations and lack of resources to build again. Many claimed to be lawful owners of the land.

Many too blamed the public authorities for having left them to spend their meagre resources building where they did, only to come later to threaten them with demolition simply because of occasional flooding. A problem also cropped up of where to relocate these people since this involved the displacement of other people and relocation sites were far from the present sites. Many threats to demolish houses of the valley dwellers have always ended up in mere resolutions.

Even after this December’s  unprecedented floods, the government is already showing signs of not using force to relocate the valley dwellers, although it says it has set aside land for relocation. The valley dwellers, as could be imagined, would be happy to get alternative land but is it suited to their needs (especially in terms of Location)? Can they replicate their livelihood activities which they were carrying on in the present sites? Do they have the money to build anew? The focus on valley dwellers has always diverted attention from the failure of public authorities to carry out their duty.

First of all while valley areas suffer most, many parts of the city get flooded because of lack of, or unlooked after, drains and because of blocking natural water courses. We see floods right in the city centre as everybody’s attention is diverted to the valleys. Flooding in urban areas can be caused by flash floods, coastal floods or river floods. Urban flooding is specific in the sense that the cause is a lack of drainage in an urban area.

As there is little open soil that can be used for water storage nearly all the precipitation needs to be transported to surface water or the sewage system High intensity rainfall can cause flooding when the city sewage and drainage networks are incomplete, blocked or do not have the necessary capacity to drain away the amounts of rain that are falling. Urban floods are a great disturbance of the daily life of the city.

Roads get blocked, houses can get flooded posing danger to life and property, economic activities are disrupted and epidemic diseases can occur. People build in valleys partly because of lack of appropriate suitable land (demand). The availability of valley land and the absence of any preventive measures from the public authorities encourages valley living (supply). Indeed, public authorities
seem to silently accept valley living since it offers affordable accommodation to the poor.

As a result you find that valley people get services from public authorities such as electricity, water, schools, policing, health centres, etc. At a later day upgrading may take place. So when authorities shout on top of their voice against valley dwellers whenever there are floods, they are probably mounting a public relations exercise. As one top official remarked recently, the government cannot let its people commit suicide.

Way back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the question of people occupying and building on hazardous land was discussed and provisions put in the National Land Policy of 1995. The Land Act 1999 makes it the duty of the Minister for Lands to declare any areas that he deems to be hazardous. Section 7 of the Land Act 1999 lists types of land which can be considered to be hazardous and include mangrove swamps and coral reefs, wetlands and offshore islands; land within sixty metres of a river bank, shoreline on an inland lake, beach or coast, land on steep slopes and land “specified by the appropriate authority as land which should not be developed on account of its fragile nature or of its environmental significance.”

The minister is supposed to declare that land (using Land Forms 2 and 3) and put a notice in the government Gazette. The boundaries of this land must be shown. A copy of the notice is served on the land occupiers who must vacate within a specified time and local authorities with jurisdiction in the area. A copy of the notice must also be put in conspicuous places within the areas of the hazardous land. Some of the areas liable to flooding should have long ago been declared hazardous areas.

To my knowledge, the minister has never declared any area in the country to be a hazardous land. This is a gross omission on the part of public authorities and all the blame cannot be heaped on recalcitrant valley dwellers. Public authorities have a large part of the blame to shoulder.

Thus focus on valley dwellers diverts attention from the failure of land use regulation by public authorities; from their failure to have working drains in the city and from the sanctioned infilling of river valleys by wealthy investors which reduces the rivers’ courses and flood plains, increases the velocity of river flow, removes vegetation and sometimes blocks natural water ways. We also need to study the behaviour of flooding and put appropriate measures in place.

The December flooding in Dar es Salaam seems to have been caused by rains that rained elsewhere and came with high speed to the affected areas causing extensive damage. This is not the case with the regular floods which have been rather limited in volume and speed. It is a phenomenon that needs to be studied carefully. The way the water behaved this time has possibly no precedence in recent memory.

The government’s current efforts to resettle some of the valley dwellers are commendable. Many governments do use situations of disasters to re-plan land uses. However, the ultimate attention should be on enforcing land use regulations and managing urban areas sustainably. This includes ensuring proper city drainage.

lusuggakironde@gmail.com

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Mwandishi: LUSUGA KIRONDE

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