DAR ES SALAAM, May 6, 2019 – Before the 1990s, Tanzania’s Great Ruaha River flowed year-round, feeding Ruaha National Park before flowing into the Mtera-Kidatu hydropower system, which supplies around 50% of the country’s installed hydropower capacity.
Then the river started drying up for up to a few weeks per year, the result of large, unregulated water abstraction for agricultural irrigation upstream. Today, several months per year where there is no water flowing into the Great Ruaha are the norm.
“We face significant challenges in the management of our environment with respect to the Great Ruaha as the zero-flow spells increase each year,” said January Makamba, Tanzania’s Minister of State of Environment and Union Affairs. “In 2018, the river dried up for 210 days.”
The World Bank’s newly-published Tanzania Country Environmental Assessment (CEA) shows the Great Ruaha is one among several vital endowments now in crisis due to environmental degradation. The analysis, Environmental Trends and Threats, and Pathways to Improved Sustainability, shows competing demands for, and open access to, many of Tanzania’s natural resources are causing their degradation and limiting their ability to continue to provide goods and services.
Tanzania hosts one of the largest poor populations in Africa, with approximately 21.3 million Tanzanians living below the poverty line, many of which depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Tanzania’s total wealth per capita – the sum of all physical, human, and natural capital – declined between 1995 and 2014, despite sustained economic growth. This decline is attributed to rapid population growth which has outpaced investment and occasioned the loss of total renewable natural capital per capita by 35% over the past 20 years, and of non-land renewable natural capital per capita by 47%, the report highlights.
Some concerns raised by the report relate to more “traditional” environmental and natural resources challenges, which include degradation of land and water resources, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. These concerns are most relevant for rural areas, where natural resources are subject to competing demands. For example, Tanzania has an estimated forest area net loss of 483,859 ha per year – one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.