Drought Forces People and Wildlife to Compete for Water in Tanzania

a herd of cattle and a person on a bicycle traveling long distances for water on a dusty road
The Guardian Tanzania
Kiteto, Tanzania

Drought Forces People and Wildlife to Compete for Water in Tanzania

Maria Lucas, a 30-year-old resident of Makame village in the Manyara region of northern Tanzania, holds up a glass of yellowish water and issues a challenge. “We have been sharing water from ponds with wild animals and livestock,” she says. “Can you people from the cities drink this kind of water?”

The surrounding Makame Wildlife Management Area (WMA) was set up to conserve and sustainably use local wildlife while improving lives in Makame and other nearby villages. Controlled hunting by fee-paying tourists provides revenue to the local government and communities. But, as Maria explains, drought increasingly threatens the people, their livestock and the wildlife they live with. Conflict over water resources is rising.

The problem is not confined to Makame. An investigation by The Guardian reveals that nearly all of Tanzania’s 22 WMAs lack permanent water sources to serve for dry seasons. There are concerns that wildlife in these areas will struggle to survive future prolonged droughts unless tourism investors, the government and local communities jointly set up water supply infrastructure. As the climate changes, increasing drought threats, people are calling for urgent action to enable communities and wildlife to adapt.

Wildlife and communities

Under Tanzania’s Wildlife Conservation Act No 5 of 2009, villagers can set aside some of their land as a WMA for the sustainable conservation and utilization of wildlife resources. The Wildlife Conservation (Wildlife Management Areas) Regulations, 2017, and its 2019 minor amendments, outline roles and responsibilities.

Villagers must manage their WMAs through 'authorized associations’ formed by village councils. These associations can enter into agreements with private investors regarding the management of parts of their WMA, with revenues contributing to conservation and socio-economic development. District Councils monitor enforcement of wildlife laws, participate in the process of negotiation of agreements between the authorized associations and investors, and monitor investment in the WMAs.

The Makame WMA began this journey in 2003 but did not start operating until 2012, when it received its user rights. The area comprises 331,171 acres of open woodland and shrubland. It is home to diverse species of mammals from elephants, buffaloes and antelopes, to pangolins, leopards and wild dogs. The abundant wildlife is a source of revenue, thanks to the high fees tourist hunters are willing to pay.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Tanzania earns about 20 billion shillings (US$ 8.6 million) a year from tourism hunting in areas under the custody of the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority. In 2014, after conducting the necessary surveys, the Makame WMA decided to gain a share of these revenues by creating three tourism hunting blocks. Two of these have now been leased to companies called Sunset Tarangire Limited and PH Asma that operate hunting safaris.

Makame Ward Councillor Isaya Ole-Kilae (green shirt) speaks to journalist Francis (yellow shirt) at Makame Wildlife Management Area office in Makame village. On the right is Isaya Tutala, Makame Village Chairperson. Credit: Faustine Felician / Nipashe Digital.
Makame Ward Councillor Isaya Ole-Kilae (green shirt) speaks to journalist Francis (yellow shirt) at Makame Wildlife Management Area office in Makame village. On the right is Isaya Tutala, Makame Village Chairperson. Credit: Faustine Felician / Nipashe Digital.

The WMA is managed by the Indema Authorized Association, whose name is an abbreviation of its three founder villages: Irkuishbor, Ndedo and Makame. Its ten members represent the five villages that now participate in the WMA. They act to ensure that the WMA is helping to address the priorities of the communities by, for example, improving health, education, economic empowerment and infrastructure.

Makame WMA Manager, Supuk Olekao, says that 80% of the money it collects from tourism hunting is dedicated to social issues in the five beneficiary villages. The remining 20% pays for the WMA’s operational costs. Olekao says the revenues have so far enabled at least 600 individuals to benefit from the Community Health Insurance Fund and, as of 2020, had supported 80 students to complete higher education. 

“Between 2014 and 2019, the five villages earned 225 million shillings (US$ 97,210) [per year on average] from Makame WMA,” says Olekao. “In 2020/21 they earned 334 million (US$ 144,000). With this amount, at least 60 students are currently being facilitated to pursue their studies in different colleges and universities.”

Revenues rose sharply last year because the two hunting blocks received more hunters of diverse wild animal species than before, says Olekao. This included uncommon antelope species, such as gerenuk, lesser kudu and oryx, which cost hunters between US$3000 and US$3,500 per individual killed.

Drought strikes

When drought struck in 2021, local people and wildlife suffered. Rain stopped in early April, but according to the Tanzania Meteorological Authority the drought did not officially begin until October. This was followed by the warmest and driest November since 1970. December was third warmest on record and, overall, 2021 emerged as the fourth driest year recorded since 1970. For women like Maria Lucas, the lack of water became a daily struggle.

“We women were forced to walk at least 40 kilometers to other villages [and back] in search of water for household needs and for providing calves and weak or sick livestock water to drink,” she says.

“Drought really affected women’s health due to walking long distances,” Lucas adds.

Maria said the drought forced men and women to go at least 25 days without having bath. Eventually, she says, villagers had to hire a person with a three-wheeled motorcycle to fetch water from villages at least 50 kilometers away. From September 2021 to early in January 2022, the villagers were paying 150,000 shillings (US$ 65) for 30 buckets of 20 liters. Unfortunately, this amount of water could not last two days because both people and livestock needed it.

“Last year’s drought was very extreme,” says Makame resident Naisujaki Lesikarr, who is also the ward chairperson of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi ruling party’s women’s wing (UWT).  “It pulled us into poverty following the deaths of hundreds of our livestock.”

While the people and their animals suffered, wildlife went thirsty too. The severe drought dried out ponds and led to a scarcity of grasses for grazing wildlife. Noah Sitati, Wildlife Species Expert from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Arusha says the loss of grass poses additional risks.

“When severe drought hits, wild animals are forced to eat short growing grasses,” he says. “As the result, they sometimes feed on grasses with soil, thus they suffer from anthrax. Official figures are yet to be released but many wildlife died from the disease through 2021.”

men rescue a buffalo from a muddy pond with a jeep full of people parked nearby
Makame Wildlife Management Area staff rescuing a buffalo that got stuck in a muddy pond in Makame village in search of water, in January 2022 / Credit: Raymond Mdoe.

In Makame, antelopes, zebras and other animals moved out of the WMA and into villagers’ land in search of water and pasture. “Villagers’ maize farms were invaded by buffaloes and elephants searching for something to eat,” says Maria.

Kiteto District Commissioner Mbaraka Batenga, adds that sometimes as many as four buffaloes were rescued in a single week at the peak of the drought in November 2021 from muddy ponds where they had become trapped in their search of water. Other buffaloes were not so fortunate. Makame Village Chairman, Isaya Tutala, a member of Indema Authorized Association, says at least eight buffaloes died in the village between September and December last year.

The drought triggered a scramble for drinking water between the Makame ward residents and wildlife from the WMA. Local people say human-wildlife conflict peaked between September 2021 and January 2020, when residents were forced to share insufficient water from ponds with wild animals and livestock.

A way forward

“Drought kept us on our toes,” says District Commissioner Batenga, “and invited stakeholders and conservators to set a way forward.”

In November 2021, the District Council and the two investors Sunset Tarangire Limited and PH Asma agreed that the companies would each build and fill two wat er-retaining dams within the WMA as an urgent adaptation measure. Meanwhile longer-term plans to address the implications of drought for wildlife will be discussed through consultations by the central government.

PH Asma Manager, Mathayo Mkwatia, says the company completed construction of its two dams, in its Masai hunting block, in January 2022. Sunset Tarangire Limited has completed one dam in Katikati village. Construction of the second dam, in Irkuishbor ward, was postponed due to rain that started in early February. Both dams have a capacity of 20,000 liters, and will be kept full with water transported from new wells.

Sunset Tarangire Limited had taken over the Irkuishbor hunting block from another hunting safari company in August 2021, on a ten-year contract with Makame WMA. Raymond Mdoe, the company’s Operation Manager for the Irkuishbor block, says the need to improve water resources was obvious.

“We had found the block very dry, with no water for wild animals,” says Mdoe, adding that the company had immediately started drilling two deep wells within the block. “The company is building another six extra dams and drilling another six deep wells altogether, outside of the WMA investment contract terms. This is because two dams alone cannot meet the demand of wild animals in the WMA.”

an excavator digging up soil for a pond
An excavator landscaping for pond construction in Irkuishbor village / Credit: Faustine Felician (Nipashe Digital).

Wider challenges

Makame WMA is not alone. According to the Tanzania Meteorological Authority, in a report released on 3 March, there has not been such a severe drought for 20 years. Throughout 2021, temperatures were 0.5 degrees Celsius above the long-term average recorded between 1981 and 20210.

Dr Maurus Msuha, Director of Wildlife Unit in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, says the ministry is taking measures in national parks and WMAs to mitigate drought, through the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA), respectively.

TANAPA’s Conservation Commissioner, William Mwakilema, acknowledges that the drought had disturbed wildlife in some national parks and wildlife management areas through 2021.

“Initially, we believed in a saying – ‘let nature decide its own course’,” he says. “Plans for building dams and drilled wells have been in place for some years, but the delay was due to the fact that such extreme drought hasn't been experienced before. Climate change impacts have kept us on our toes.”

Mwakilema says that since mid-2021, TANAPA has allocated a total of 669.4 million shillings (US$ 289,000) to construct dams and drill deep wells in Mkomazi, Mikumi and Katavi National Parks. He says the works will be completed before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, WMAs face a shortage of finance. TAWA’s Acting Conservation Commissioner, Mabula Misungwi admits that things are not going well with the management of funds in some WMAs. He says that since TAWA was established, in 2014, it has been striving with a meagre budget for infrastructure development in the country’s 22 WMAs.

“With funds extended by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the authority has been working on key infrastructure such as roads to facilitate easy connectivity,” says Misungwi. “Plans for constructing water dams are in the pipeline. Besides, TAWA is considering procurement of water well-drilling rigs.”

Misungwi says the 12.9 billion shillings (US$ 5.5 million) that TAWA has been allocated for infrastructure development in all 22 WMAs, in the current fiscal year, is not enough. He says TAWA needs to be allocated 150 billion shillings (US$ 65 million) for it to be comfortable with its operational activities including infrastructure development in WMAs and Game Reserved Areas.

two people stand near the remains of a dead buffalo
Makame Ward Councilor, Isaya Ole-Kilae (green shirt), and Makame Village Chairman Isaya Tutala, (green cap) by the remains of a buffalo that died last year during the drought / Credit: Faustine Felician (Nipaashe Digital).

Rising risks

The Tanzania Meteorological Authority has not yet declared the drought to be over. But in mid-February it said that most parts of Tanzania that receive rains twice a year should receive normal to above normal rainfall in the long rains season, from late February to the end of May. The rains will offer respite to people and wildlife in Makame WMA. But in the longer-term, climate change will bring increasing threats of drought.

In October 2021, the World Meteorological Organization’s ‘2021 State of Climate Services’ report presented a grim reminder that Africa’s 1.3 billion people remain in extreme poverty as the continent warms. Last year, Africa warmed more rapidly than the world average, the report said. As temperatures rise, already arid and semi-arid regions face more frequent and longer-lasting droughts, increasing the threats to vulnerable communities, livestock and wildlife.

In Makame, the villagers The Guardian spoke to are calling for action. Isaya Ole-Kilae, a Makame Ward Councillor, suggests that every village should be supplied with tap water from deep drilled wells to ensure a water supply during extreme dry seasons.

“The whole world has tasted the bitterness of climate change effects,” she says. “It is high time for the central government to bring forward policies and strategies regarding climate change resilience. A well-organized survey should be conducted in semi-arid places like Makame to initiate water well drilling projects.” 

Some, like Makame Village Chairman, Isaya Tutala, are speaking for the animals too.

“Think of all these struggles by humans in search of water in relation to wild animals that can’t make their own source or pay for accessing the utility,” he says, pointing out the remains of a dead buffalo. “Something must be done and the time is now.”

Francis Kajubi produced this story with a grant from EJN’s Biodiversity Media Initiative. It was first published by The Guardian (Tanzania) on 19 March 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The Biodiversity Media Initiative is supported by Arcadia — a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.

Banner image: Humans and cattle have to walk several kilometers for their water supply in many parts of Tanzania / Credit: Peres Mwangoka (BCClimateChampions) via Flickr.

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