Prosper Kwigize and Hadija Jumanne

Groundwater is an essential source of water throughout rural and urban areas in Tanzania. Cities like Shinyanga, Singida, Babati, Arusha, Moshi, and Dodoma rely heavily on groundwater for public water supply.

According to the Lake Victoria Basin Water Board Director, Dr. Renatus Shinhu, environmental degradation in the Kagera Basin has led to the drying up of several surface water sources, such as springs, especially along the river. The most affected districts, he says, are Ngara, Kyerwa, Misenyi, and Karagwe.

Dr. Shinhu adds that communities in these districts have now turned to groundwater as their primary water source for domestic use. “Up to 66 wells have been drilled to provide water to communities that have long struggled with water shortages in this area,” he further revealed.

Communities in Tanzania have turned to groundwater as their primary water source for domestic use. Photo by Prosper Kwigize

Geoffrey Nyamgali, a resident of Muhweza village in Ngara district, says his village has had several streams and shallow wells dry up.

“That is why our village has set up a system to have water resources management committees, where I am a committee accountant, and we have to make sure we protect the available water sources as well as coordinate water use,” narrates Nyamgali. 

He blames the drying up of their water sources on “deforestation, cultivation very close to water springs and grazing within valleys.” 

“Young people may not know, but the truth is that our water sources are drying up,” insists Nyamgali.

For this reason, among others, authorities in Tanzania want countries that share the Kagera river Basin, namely Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, to harmonize laws to protect the environment, safeguard groundwater and thus contribute to socio-economic development in the Basin. 

A power dam under construction on the Kagera river. Photo by Prosper Kwigize.

Professor Faustin Kamzora, the Kagera Regional Administrative Secretary in Tanzania, says uniform laws and collaborative governance would help safeguard water sources, including surface and groundwater reservoirs in the shared Kagera River Basin.  

“Our people are the same; they have the same cultures, traditions, and customs, even the use of environmental resources is the same,’ explains Prof. Kamzora, further stressing that “if we all agree to have a single system of environmental management, especially water resources, we will achieve great success instead of each country having its system.” 

This system could include uniform regulations among all the Kagera basin countries on agriculture in water catchments, the uniform distance between human activities and the water source or river, protection of aquifers and creation of water catchment boundaries, sanitation and sewerage management, he said.

And as more surface water catchments dry up in most parts of Tanzania, just like in other countries within the Basin, the government is now heavily dependent on groundwater for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use.

According to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), groundwater is one of the most critical sources of water for people, livestock, and wildlife throughout the Nile Basin. More than 70 percent of the rural population in the Basin’s 11 countries depend on it for domestic use. 

But the resource is threatened by several factors, including climate change and environmental degradation. Without adequate transboundary management policies, this important alternative water source may also deplete in the long run. 

Surface water collects above the land. It is found in streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, floodwater, and runoff. On the other hand, groundwater is located beneath the earth’s surface. The two systems usually recharge each other. Surface water recharges underground aquifers when it seeps into the ground. Similarly, when underground water discharges to the surface, it recharges surface water.

Surface water systems are essential in sustaining underground water quality and quantity. Photo by Prosper Kwigize.

Bearing this in mind, districts in the Kagera region of Tanzania have heightened efforts to protect water sources, including groundwater aquifers. A case in point is in Ngara district, where authorities have prioritized tree planting and protecting water catchment areas.

Engineer Simon Ndyamkama, the Manager of Rural and Urban Water and Sanitation Authority (RUWASA) in Ngara district, says this has proved helpful in safeguarding surface and groundwater sources.

“We plant-friendly trees at water sources and establish boundaries so that human activities do not occur inside water catchment areas,” narrates Engineer Ndyamkama.

Ngara district enacted the sanitation by-law in 2014, enabling the promotion of sanitation and hygiene as well as conservation of the environment. Under this law, people, especially those living in commercial areas, contribute a small amount of money per month (1000 Tanzanian shillings (USD  0.42) for households and 1500 shillings (USD 0.63) per business entity). This money is used to support environmental conservation initiatives.

Like the local government authorities, individuals are also taking active roles in protecting their water sources. One such individual is Joyce Katabaro, a Kayanga Karagwe, Tanzania resident.

“As a woman who recognizes water sources’ importance, I ensure they are not degraded. When I find out someone is destroying a source, I report them to the village leaders so that legal action can be taken against them,” discloses Katabaro. 

According to the Nile Basin Initiative NBI, surface water systems, especially forests and wetlands, play an essential role in sustaining groundwater quality and quantity, providing a storage medium for water, and supporting complex ecosystem niches of economic and environmental importance.

Illustration 1: How a Transboundary Aquifer works (static illustration)

To support the Kagera Basin countries in their efforts towards the sustainable use and management of the Kagera aquifer, NBI is currently implementing a project to strengthen the knowledge base, capacity, and cross-border institutional mechanisms. The project also targets two other aquifers: the Mt Elgon aquifer shared between Kenya and Uganda and the Gedaref-Adigrat aquifer shared by Ethiopia and Sudan.

The USD 5.3 million project – ‘Enhancing Conjunctive Management of Surface Water and Groundwater Resources in Selected Transboundary Aquifers, will further build and expand on the understanding of groundwater resources through detailed mapping and assessment of the three aquifer systems. 

It will also aid the national achievements and reporting of water-related Sustainable Development Goals; and will be supportive of environmental protection while enhancing the socio-economic development of the Basin’s population. 

The five-year (2020 – 2025) project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and executed by NBI.

This article was supported by InfoNile with funding from the Nile Basin Initiative.

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