There is little doubt that the climate in the Pangani River basin is changing fast. Along the length of its 500 kilometre course, users talk of better times, lodged in living memory, when there was simply more water. The Pangani was higher and stronger, and flow was guaranteed through the two dry seasons of every year. Instream flows have decreased and conflict over the dwindling resource now requires astute management.

Subsistence farmers complain of dry river beds and the growing number of large commercial plantations. The commercial farmers point fingers at the demands of the urban centres. The three hydro-electric power stations on the river, with the potential to provide 17 per cent of Tanzania’s electricity, experience generation outputs of only thirty per cent due to insufficient flow. And, downstream, the Pangani estuary, formerly a rich concentration of marine and aquatic biodiversity, is salting over as the river’s current is too weak to keep the ocean’s tides at bay. 

The initial conflicts between hydropower, irrigation and general water users were perhaps an early indicator of climate change,” says Washington Mutayoba, director of Water Resources in the Tanzanian Ministry of Water

However, Mutayoba, like many others in the water sector, know that the troubles of the Pangani cannot be placed squarely at the foot of climate change. Population pressures, deforestation, increasing numbers of livestock and expansion of cultivated land, all lead to excessive abstraction of the basin’s water and are additional layers of complexity. 

In this country there is tremendous pressure on our natural resources,” says Mutayoba. “You need to integrate planning by knowing what is available and understanding demands.” 

Sitting on the international advisory board of the IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative, Mutayoba is well versed in tackling inland water issues from a river basin approach, and promotes the use of integrated flow analyses of river basins to achieve integrated water resource management. Such analyses provide detailed data on the water use requirements of all users in a basin including the environment, thereby allowing management institutions to develop current and future water use scenarios and to make authoritative allocations based on the sustainable capacity of the river. 

Without such data, we cannot do anything,” explains Pangani River Basin Officer Hamza Sadiki.

The environment is supposed to sustain people. Our responsibility is to raise awareness. We will do this by scenario proposing. Show it to them and let them understand,” says Sadiki. 

Sadiki recognises the threat of climate change and the need to adapt. 

There is climate change, and people are appealing to us. What can government do? We tell them they have to change their lifestyle.” 

It is Sadiki, and the Pangani Basin Water Board that he reports to, who, under Tanzania’s National Water Policy of 2002, make the allocation decisions. The devolution of authority to basin-level, is recognition by national government that water resource allocation is best managed close to the ground and is the most appropriate response to avoid local conflicts. The new policy also calls for decision makers to prioritise a river’s environmental health after first meeting basic human needs. All other water use considerations follow thereafter. 

Both Mutayoba and Sadiki are confident this new approach will allow the Pangani to best cope with the demands that climate change and other pressures will place on them and, under these circumstances, most equitably allocate the river’s much-desired resources. 

Previous water policy was driven purely by the need to supply and deliver,” says Mutayoba. “Now we are looking at the bigger picture, climate change and all.”
Written by Alex Hetherington