USD $200 million needed to stop flooding in Dar es Salaam’s Msimbazi Basin

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By Deusdedith Kahangwa, Dar es Salaam 

About three kilometers north of the Tanzania’s State House, which is located along Barack Obama Drive at Dar es Salaam’s Kivukoni coastal area, lies Msimbazi Bay. This is a point at which the historically famous Msimbazi River meets the Indian Ocean, wherein it discharges her waters. 

Once a permanent asset to city dwellers, the river has recently become a liability to them by annually causing human crises linked to riverine floods. Historically, the 1997 El-Nino rains inaugurated flood-related disasters in the Msimbazi River Basin. 

Since then, there have been floods almost every year, and so far Dar es Salaam residents have witnessed at least one flood event in each of the following years: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. When it rains heavily, within a few hours the water rises to a height of two meters or more above the banks of the river.

This last occurred on December 17, 2019, when heavy rains caused severe flooding in the Msimbazi River Basin and the surrounding areas of Dar es Salaam.

Many homes in the valley flooded, rendering many people homeless. Also, many of the bridges along the riverbanks were covered with water, including the Jangwani Bridge, the Mkwajuni bridge, the Mugabe Bridge along Shekilango Road and the Kigogo Bridge. All economic and social activities stopped, and public transportation was interrupted all day. Some houses crumbled, furniture was smashed by water, and several innocent lives were lost.

The police force, led by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Juma Ndaki, conducted a helicopter patrol on that day to assess the safety of civilians and their property.

“The biggest impacts are in the Msimbazi River Basin. The situation there is fragile. We emphasize our government’s position that all people in the valley should move out quickly. The time for discussions is over,” Ndaki said after aerial patrol.

Mkwajuni Bridge blocked with litter

The floods have reminded the Tanzanian government on the importance, urgency and necessity of designing and implementing a permanent solution against regular flooding in the Msimbazi Basin.

Despite the government’s recent efforts to build modern infrastructure such as flyovers and fast-moving bus routes in the city, still Dar es Salaam has not turned into a safe zone for all citizens. Due also to severe population density and environmental damage, the river basin is endangering civilian life, property, and infrastructure such as bridges, schools, hospitals and human settlements for about 9,000 households.

With the intent to build a resilient city, in August 2018 the government in partnership with the British Development Aid Agency, the World Bank and other partners finalized a project document known as “Msimbazi Opportunity: Transforming the Msimbazi Basin into a Beacon of Urban Resilience.” 

The Msimbazi Project, at a cost of USD $200 million, proposes to transform the Msimbazi Basin into a lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis caused by climate change, especially in urban areas. A 30-plus year project, its strategies include protecting the ecology of the area to prevent floods, relocating people located in flood-prone areas, and building a vibrant business hub in a new city park to conserve the environment while providing economic opportunities to residents.

Flooding around Msimbazi bridge

The Msimbazi Basin: at the heart of Dar es Salaam

The Msimbazi Basin is found in Dar es Salaam city, which is among the 30 fastest growing cities in the world. And according to the Institute of Security Studies, by 2030 Africa will host six of the world’s 41 megacities with Dar es Salaam being one of those six cities.

The latest Tanzania in Figures Report released by the Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics in 2019 show that the intercensal population growth rate for Dar es Salaam is 5.6%, which means that, by 2030 its population will have grown from the recent population of 5,147,070 to 10 million or more, hence becoming a mega city.

The Msimbazi River pours its water into the Indian Ocean through the Sealander Bridge. This water is poured into the sea after the water travels a long way, crossing the valley that connects the three districts of Kinondoni, Ilala and Kisarawe.

Sealander Bridge over Msimbazi Bay

The Msimbazi River Basin covers about 271 square kilometers, which harbors 27 percent of the population of Dar es Salaam City. It is a valley divided into four major zones, namely, Upper Basin, Upper Middle Basin, Lower Middle Basin and Lower Basin. The road network and other physical infrastructure intersect the Basin. 

According to the Project document, there are 1.6 million residents in the Msimbazi River Basin and 250,000 residents live in the lower parts of the Basin between Sealander Bridge and Mandela Road. By 2030, the Msimbazi River Basin is expected to be home to 2.5 million inhabitants.

Despite this rapid population growth, the Msimbazi Project Document estimates that the proportion of formal human settlements in Dar es Salaam is only 30 percent, meaning most people live in informal structures.

Already, 9,000 homes housing 50,000 residents are at risk of flooding each year and thus are not suitable for human life.

Physical infrastructure flooded by the Msimbazi River include Muhimbili National Hospital, Morogoro road, Kawawa Road, Shekilango Road, Tandale Road, Mandela road, a portion of the national Railway, the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) headquarters, the cement factory, and the industrial area near Mandela Road.

Elevation of some of the infrastructure flooded in 2019

Contributing factors to the problem include the construction of human settlements in wetlands; erosion of riverbanks; construction of infrastructure resulting in blockage of rainwater; the disposal of solid wastes in the river; the shortage of drainage and wastewater systems; sea level rise due to climate change; and general environmental degradation, according to the project document.

There has been unprecedented change in the climate system, to the extent of altering the natural balance of ecology and climate that normally prevails in the Msimbazi River Basin. At the same time, communities living in the River basin have not gained adequate resilience to climate change and its effects on their lives and the environment.

A failed solution to floods: evictions and relocations

When floods occur, affected households are often evacuated, but this has not been a sustainable solution. Immediately after the 2011 flood, 680 affected households were evacuated and the relocated citizens were given plots at Mabwepande, 25 kilometers away in northern Dar es Salaam. About 1,007 plots were evacuated and 3,400 people transferred there. Piped water systems were installed and primary schools built.

However, many of the displaced people returned to the Msimbazi Basin as soon as the rain subsided due to a lack of economic activities for jobseekers and a lack of public transport services to help people gain access to employment, low-income markets and social services that are highly focused in the city center.

In 2015, the government demolished about 700 homes at Hananasif Ward, in Kinondoni District to evacuate people who had invaded the intended 60-meter-free zone from the river. After a public outcry and a court order naming the exercise illegal, the government stopped the evictions. 

The Msimbazi Opportunity Plan

The Tanzanian government launched the Msimbazi Opportunity Plan in 2018 with the intent to end the flood-related disasters that have been happening almost every year, preserve the ecology of the region and transform the watershed into a valley of economic opportunity for its residents.

The project is the result of joint efforts by more than 200 stakeholders, who met between January and August 2018 to conduct 30 sessions of research, discussion and editing. These stakeholders include 60 domestic and foreign institutions who drafted the project under the sponsorship of the British government and supervision of the Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan.

A meeting to revitalise the process took place in November with government and development partner representatives attending.

The Msimbazi Project seeks to change the Basin from a dangerous valley into an environmentally friendly area that is safe to the people by transforming it into the “heart and lungs of the city.”

Mkwanjuni Bridge

To conserve the environment, the plan lays out strategies to plant trees; protect the basin’s ability to absorb rainwater; stop the dumping of waste into the river, and prevent human activities along the river to control erosion in the river walls and reduce sedimentation that leads to floods.

To protect nearby communities from dangerous floods, the project intends to increase the capacity of the river to transport water to Msimbazi Bay by expanding its depth, increasing its width and creating water-leading levels. The plan also strives to reduce flood damage to residents in the valley by raising riverbanks and evacuating residents and businesses of people living in the valley and taking them to safe places when it floods.

Finally, to enhance the area’s economic growth potential, the project includes a plan to build a City Park between the Selander Bridge and the Kawawa Road, which will include playgrounds, residential buildings, businesses, conferences and offices.

The project intends to build 12,000 businesses, offices, supermarkets, and car parks as well as 2,500 residential units. Estimates of potential income generated from these establishments indicate that upfront investment costs in the Msimbazi River Basin may return within 12 years, with an annual return of 18 percent.

The project document also proposes to establish a new administrative system cutting across agencies and departments to manage the entire project, which intends to be implemented in a phased in approach from this year to 2050.

While the Minister of State in the President’s Office, Selemani S. Jafo, has publicly promised to support the project since 2018, full funding has still not been secured. The project is backed by the U.K. development agency through the Trust Fund at the World Bank, but funding of USD $100 million is expected to be required as a loan from the World Bank to proceed with the project. 

According to one of the Project Documents the full cost of the project ranges from USD $120 to USD $200 million. Out of this budget, another Project Document states that some USD $55 million is needed to repair the lower half of the Msimbazi Basin; USD $49 million is needed to repair the upper half of the Basin; and the cost of planting trees and cleaning up solid wastes in the upper half of the river needs USD $10 million.

The Ministry of Finance is currently conducting a feasibility study to determine if this loan would raise the national debt beyond the allowed limits, according to Engineer Nyariri Nanai, the Misimbazi Project Coordinator.

The government has also not yet announced how much it will contribute to the project. Final funding decisions are likely to be announced through the 2020/2021 budget process in June.

Local residents in support

Dr. Wilson Babyebonela, a resident of Kijitonyamaanda lecturer at Kampala International University, Dar es Salaam Campus said he was aware and in support of the proposed revitalization project.

In his higher studies, he wrote a doctoral thesis that examined the problem of solid waste in Kinondoni Municipality.

“The problem of dumping solid waste in the Msimbazi River and its Sinza River branch is huge. I am pleased to see that the Msimbazi Basin Project has allocated a part of its budget in this area as well,” Dr.Babyebonela said.

Mohammed Kaili, an Ilala resident, said he was excited over the Msimbazi River Renovation Project because there was a plan to compensate all those who would be evacuated to pave way for project implementation.

“My brother, when we were building these houses we were not properly directed, for even the markings on the river border we did not see. But, it is a good thing that the government is now planning to rehabilitate the Basin after compensating and relocating us,”Kaili said.

PrivatusKarugendo, a Tabata resident, called on the government to make an effort to quickly implement the Msimbazi Project in order to end the shame of the city of Dar es Salaam.

“Since 1979 the government had a town planning map which showed that the Mbimbazi Basin is a dangerous place for people’s lives. And the law on environmental conservation which is overseen by the National Environmental Management Council declared that the 60-meter radius from the middle of the river should be excluded from human activities. However, its implementation was poorly managed. But now I feel like the government is ready to correct itself,” Karugendo said.

Dissenters question hefty price tag

Despite wide support from local residents, the Msimbazi Project is not without opposing voices and challengers, mainly due to the huge resources needed for the project’s implementation relative to the national budget.

Some believe that the government should reduce the project’s expenditure by focusing activities on dredging the riverbed but avoid plans for reforestation in the upper basin and city park development in the lower basin.  

Sealander Bridge

One commentator on the online JamiiForums portal, Damicon Agrifarm, where a story related to the Msimbazi Basin Project was posted, insinuated that allowing foreign direct investment via the Msimbazi Basin Project would amount to embracing economic imperialism. On the same portal, a commenter named Eddy described the Msimbazi Project as “complete rubbish.” 

Most of the local interviewees, who were involved in the project design, were optimistic about the likelihood of gaining project funding from domestic and international funding sources such as the World Bank. This is because these sources had directly participated in the Msimbazi Project design and expressed their readiness to fund the project subject to finalization of the loan procurement process by the government of Tanzania. 

However, some independent commentators seriously doubted the likelihood of securing full funding due to the government’s change of priorities from climate management issues to heavy investments in industrialization. 

Robert Kiunsi, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Environmental Science and Technology and the Director of The Disaster Management Training Centre at Ardhi University in Tanzania, has conducted extensive research on the constraints on climate change adaptation in a city with a large development deficit such as Dar es Salaam.

Kiunsi argues that in the recent past, climate change policy has taken a near bottom rank in the national political agenda pyramid, as the government prioritizes heavy investments in high carbon-emitting industries and infrastructure development projects such as road construction projects and the Nyerere Hydropower Project that he said disrupt natural ecosystems like the Selous Game Reserve. 

Thus, Kiunsi believes that the current government may not be highly motivated to source funding for implementing the Msimbazi Basin Project, which primarily focuses on climate change mitigation. 

Another reason cited for pessimistic prospects of project funding is the strained relationship between the government of Tanzania and the World Bank, the expected main funder of the project. Since 2015, the World Bank has twice withheld loans requested by the government of Tanzania to support the education sector due to the total exclusion of pregnant girls from education. 

Under the fifth term government in Tanzania, once a girl student gets pregnant, she is not allowed to continue schooling through the formal education system. National and international reporters, including Michael Igoe who writes for Devex News Agency, have reported about the shaky relations between Tanzania and the World Bank. 

One commentator named VAPS on the JamiiForums online portal argued that under such a strained relationship between Tanzania and the World Bank, it is unlikely that the government of Tanzania will successfully procure a loan from the World Bank to support the Msimbazi Basin Project. 

“There is no serious business partner who is willing to team up with the fifth phase government in such a multi-billion project,” he commented.  

Furthermore, according to Nyariri Nanai, the official project coordinator, the government’s ultimate decision to borrow the money is still “subject to a strict feasibility study in relation to the exponentially growing national debt.”

The production of this story was supported by InfoNile with funding from the National Geographic Society.

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