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FEATURE STORY October 1, 2019

Wading Out the Storm – Flood Risk and Poverty in Dar es Salaam

Floods in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Coordinated, strategic, and community-driven action is required for sustainable development of Dar es Salaam’s disaster resilience.

World Bank

This story is part of a month-long series focusing on adaptation and resilience. Around the world, climate change is already impacting lives and livelihoods, especially in the world’s poorest countries. The World Bank Group is committed to boosting support for adaptation and resilience, including through its first-of-a-kind Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience.


  • New research highlights the intersection between flood risk and poverty in Dar es Salaam.
  • Knowing who gets hit hardest, how much they lose and how they can cope better with floods can help improve preventive action as well as post-disaster support.


When Floods Come

This disaster was not a one-off. Dar es Salaam alone was affected by similar events in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018 – with 7 events in 2017-18 alone. The frequency of these disasters highlights the need to address the recurrent flood risk in the city.

“We live in fear. April is the most dangerous month,” said [Marie], who lives in Ada Estate, a flood-prone neighborhood. Marie’s own home has flooded every rainy season for the past 20 years.

“It doesn’t matter how pretty your gate is, the water is still going to come”, said Fatuma from the Sabasaba neighborhood. But she also observed that, over time, more affluent households have relocated to safer areas where drainage systems are better able to cope with heavy rains.


A Flooding-Poverty Nexus

And can we use this information to better inform preventive action as well as post-disaster support, targeting interventions toward vulnerable populations and ensuring that we support actions that can be most effective in helping people recover?

Our analysis looked at three elements in Dar es Salaam, namely exposure, vulnerability and socio-economic resilience. Or to put it another way: who is affected by floods; how much do they lose as a result of flooding; and how can they cope with and recover from repeated flooding?

We found that:

  • Exposure to flood is widespread in Dar es Salaam — at least 39% of the population or 2 million people— have been impacted either directly or indirectly by floods. The April 2018 flood affected between 900,000 and 1.7 million people.
  • The poor and vulnerable are most affected. Flooding impacts households that are, on average, more food insecure and have 14% lower per capita expenditures. Female headed households, which may be less equipped with the tools to cope with disasters, are also more likely to be affected.
  • However, wealthier households were also affected. They lost more in monetary terms than poorer households although in relation to income, poor and non-poor people lost about the same amount. This may be because poorer households own fewer assets and are less likely to be able to undertake housing repairs, resulting in a lower monetary value of losses.
  • Floods place an economic burden on all citizens: the April 2018 floods, for instance, cost the population an equivalent of as much as 4% of the city’s GDP. On average, affected households lost 23% of their annual expenditure – roughly 84 days’ worth of household expenditure.

The biggest concern of some of our respondents - Fatuma, Marie and their neighbors - was the impact on their health and that of their children. Having flood waters in homes increases the risk of cholera and skin infection.

“The worst is when the house floods during the night when I’m working and am not there to help my wife to secure the furniture and find a safe place for the kids to sleep. The kids cannot swim so it is dangerous for them,” says Patrick from Msisiri who works as a nighttime security guard. Patrick and his wife often put the beds on makeshift piles of bricks or have their children stay on the roof to keep them safe from the water. Flood exposure also comes with these kinds of additional stresses and discomforts which are not often captured by impact assessments of disasters.

Moreover, formal finance to support disaster recovery is seldom available, particularly for female headed households, or accessed with most support received informally from friends and family, remittances, and community saving groups.


Getting Ahead of Flood Risk

As part of the Tanzanian Urban Resilience Program, a consultative process with stakeholders helped develop a master plan  aimed at mitigating flood risk in some of the most flood-prone areas of the city. With a plan in place and with additional support from the City Resilience Program, the Government of Tanzania is now positioned to take needed action.

However, even massive investments cannot fully address flood risk. These investments therefore need to be coupled with investments in financial inclusion and social protection to boost the resilience of poorer households. Doing so can help families like those of Marie, Fatuma and Patrick overcome repeated shocks and lead safer and more prosperous lives.