By Erick Kabendera
MBABANE, Jun 30 (IPS) – Seventy-five-year-old Verdiana Protas is worried that the 20 cattle she bought with her pension money will soon die because the 10-kilometre-long river in her village in northwest Tanzania has been dry for two years now and finding alternative sources of water is getting more and more difficult.
Like the other 200 families in Kagondo neighborhood in Bukoba urban district where Protas has lived for 40 years, her animals used drink from the river, which was also a source of water for domestic use.
Now Protas and the other residents don’t have a reliable source of water and they are forced to walk long distances to find water for drinking and their livestock, she says. “Some people walk for 10 kilometres but only end up getting unclean water,” says Protas.
Other natural springs in the area are on the verge of disappearing because of the lack of rain and residents are worried about their future. While no scientific research has been done to prove the lack of rainfall in Bukoba urban district is because of climate change, residents are concerned that not enough is being done to preserve their water sources.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) officials attending the Fifth Water Dialogue on strategies to reduce the impact of climate change on water resources are hesitant to say that water sources like rivers and springs are at risk of becoming extinct due to climate change. However, they agree that increasing temperature levels might lead to water sources disappearing.
Climate change expert Leonard Unganai, from the Coping with Drought and Climate Change project in Zimbabwe, says some parts of Africa have experienced warning trends as more water is evaporating due to increased temperatures.
“The challenge with climate science is that we can’t predict what would happen in future but we plan with the most likely scenario. Temperatures are rising and this will lead to shortage of rainfall. If we don’t manage water sources properly there could be water problems,” says Unganai.
Protas is worried that her maize farm could also fail due to inconsistent rains, which have resulted to low yields.
“We planted maize early this year but it didn’t rain until the harvesting season was about to start,” Protas says.
Her region is traditionally a banana-growing region but banana plantations started drying up a few years back because they relied heavily on rainfall. The lack of rain forced most of the families in the area to start growing maize as a staple food, which requires less water.
Ungani says across the continent farmers like Protas who only depend on maize as a crop are suffering because of the change of rainfall, compared to those who grow other crops like cassava and sweet potatoes, which require less rain.
In Tanzania, the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty aims to increase access to clean and safe water in rural areas from 53 percent in 2003 up to 65 percent in 2010.
However, independent reports indicate fewer resources are being allocated to meet such targets.
A water and sanitation equity report for 2009, produced by the Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network, says that climate change is affecting water sources in rural Tanzania.
The report cites the 2005/06 water sector development budget, which sets aside funds for developing sources of water, as having allocated over 80 percent of the budget to urban areas and less than 20 percent to rural areas.
Tanzania ministry of water official, Sylvester Matemu says climate change has not only affected local communities but the drought currently experienced in some parts of Tanzania has also led to food shortages.
However, Matemu says the country has created the National Adaptation Programme of Action that seeks to identify priority activities to respond to the impact of climate change.
“We have outlined how to protect our water sources and created a network to monitor the progress. We are also engaging the private sector in the process,” says Matemu.
For Protas and the other families in northwest Tanzania, their future remains uncertain. Protas says their only hope is when government decides to act.