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Migration worsening climate stresses on Tanzania's city dwellers

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 12 September 2013 11:45 GMT

Residents of Jangwani sit with belongings salvaged from their homes in 2011 after floods crippled Dar es Salaam. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Zuberi Mussa

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With little support to adapt to worsening drought, farmers are moving to cities, and urban slums are swelling into flood-prone areas

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Zacharia Masesa moved to the city to change his life. Ten years ago, he arrived in Dar es Salaam from Mtwara, a town in the southeast of Tanzania, and soon found a job as salesman in a shop in the bustling Kariakoo business district. Now the 37-year-old lives with his wife and their two children in a modest home that he built himself.

But these days, Masesa’s life is changing in ways that make him worry. When he bought the plot of land for his house, in the Chanika neighbourhood of Temeke district, he did not know that it was a low-lying area prone to flooding.

In 2011, Masesa’s family was nearly killed by floods that engulfed his house after heavy rains. Since he and his family moved into their new home three years ago, flash floods have become ever more frequent, due in part to the lack of drainage systems.

“I had to carry my children on my shoulders to get them to safety,” he recalls. Most of his property, including a music system given to him by his boss as a wedding present, was destroyed.

“I don’t have my peace of mind,” he says. “Whenever it rains, I know at some point the floods will come.”


Temeke is among several areas of Dar es Salaam increasingly susceptible to flash floods due to changes in weather patterns, which experts believe are linked to climate change. Despite this, the district has attracted thousands of people migrating from elsewhere in the country because it provides migrants with unregulated land that they can build on.

Most residents of Temeke have learned to cope with the risk of flooding. Some, for instance, have designed their houses to enable them to store their valuables in the ceiling.

During the flood season, some young men earn money by moving flood-affected people and their belongings out of their flooded homes on pull carts. They charge between 1,000 and 5,000 Tanzanian shillings ($0.60-$3) depending on the work done.

“You never know when the floods will be coming. You have to save some money to pay these young men to assist you,” said Shafi Hussein, a local resident.

Masesa spends a great deal of his time in the dry season, which runs from June to November, protecting his house with sand bags in a bid to keep future flood waters at bay.

“I don’t take chances here, for I know the end of one flood season is probably the beginning of the other,” he says.


Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, is among the fastest growing coastal cities in Africa. Its population of 3.5 million is expected to surge to over 10 million by 2040.

Said Meck Sadick, the regional commissioner, says that the influx of people into Dar is caused by socio-economic factors such as poverty in rural areas, in large part due to prolonged drought.

“People abandon farming because they don’t see the way forward as their livelihoods are sorely dependent on rain-fed agriculture,” concurs Samuel Wangwe, a senior researcher with Policy Research for Development, or REPOA, a Tanzanian development research institution.

As Dar rapidly urbanises, most poor residents are pushed into zones prone to flooding and vulnerable to sea-level rise.

And with authorities finding it difficult to curb migration into the city, its infrastructure is coming under pressure.

“We do not have a system in place to monitor people who come and (who are) getting out of the city, so it is difficult to have any plans to prevent the influx,” says Sadick.

Wangwe thinks the government should adopt policies to help farmers cope with climate change, such as introducing sustainable irrigation and drought-resistant crops, as well as insurance policies to cushion farmers from crop failures.


A recent World Bank study says that changing rain patterns, rising sea levels and violent storms  are among the impacts of global climate change that threaten to plunge millions of city dwellers into poverty.

According to a 2011 government study on the economics of climate change in Tanzania, about 8 percent of the city’s land area, including 140,000 people and economic assets worth more than $170 million, are in areas vulnerable to flooding, with 31,000 residents considered at great risk.

The study says that without adaptation measures the number of potentially vulnerable people in Dar is likely to grow to 100,000, with assets worth over $400 million at stake.

“Without action today to ensure sustainable development and planned population settlement, economic growth and climate change will increase the exposure to coastal inundation,” the study’s authors wrote, adding that urgent measures were needed to bridge existing adaptation deficits. These steps could cost the country up to 2 percent of GDP annually by 2030.  

Analysts say that most cities in Tanzania will experience rapid population growth over the next decade due to unplanned migration, causing a number of problems including poor housing and sanitation, overcrowding, pollution, food shortages and inadequate water supplies.

“Public authorities have the duty to plan and monitor urban developments, (but) unfortunately this task is proving to be too much for them,” said Lusuga Kironde, professor of land and urban economics at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam. “The majority of urban residents live in slums which are growing faster than the rest of urban settings.”

Speaking at a public dialogue on Challenges of Urbanisation and Development in Africa in the Context of Climate Change, Pius Yanda of the University of Dar es Salaam said that with the growing threat of extreme weather most coastal communities across Africa are likely to suffer from the effects of sea-level rise, including saline intrusion, rising water tables and destruction of property.

He urged city planners to increase adaptation mechanisms and take measures to reduce the risk of disasters. Experts believe the most vulnerable areas are infrastructure, water supply, sewage and solid waste management and electricity.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam.

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