A few hours’ downpour beginning at dawn on Tuesday followed by a few hours’ drizzle yesterday morning was enough to flood several parts of our commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
The destruction was of little parallel for incidents of the kind, at least in terms of magnitude and duration – several people dead, hundreds rendered homeless, scores hanging dangerously on rooftops waiting for help or for the rain to die down, many houses demolished, roads and bridges swept away by the raging flood waters to grind transport in the city of over four million to a halt for hours on end, etc.
And word from the weather authorities (Tanzania Meteorology Agency) is far from encouraging or optimistic – we have not seen the worst of it yet!
No one can dare say the tragic moments the city is witnessing are that rare. In fact, we have gone through a series of near identical experiences even in recent years and would have normally expected us to learn a lesson or two from those incidents gone by.
Too bad, it doesn’t appear that we have indeed borrowed enough of a leaf from our history to fare better this time around.
As largely expected, those who have put up residential, business or some other types of buildings and other structures in flood-prone low-lying areas are having it especially rough.
However, unlike to the problems we have previously known, the floodwaters have this time around strike deep into even some of the most unlikely of locations.
This leaves us convinced that there is a lot more to the flood-induced catastrophe that has hit most of our chief port city than we would commonly assume.
We see at least four explanations for what has happened: serious lack of disaster preparedness, years-old punctures in our urban master plans and the way we usually go about implementing them, a poor surface transport network, and a hopelessly inefficient and overwhelmed drainage system.
True, the weather agency warned sometime ago that incessant rains would likely lead to floods that would strike with a vengeance around this time of the year.
Unfortunately, experience shows that few people in Tanzania takes weather forecasts seriously just because they have over the years come to believe that such reports are seldom accurate.
But it now looks we have a rejuvenated TMA that means heavy rain when it talks of heavy rain and furious westerly winds when it says furious westerly winds - and so we have better change our minds fast.
As to disaster preparedness, it is as clear as daylight that we have still got many light years to go before we can feel comfortable because we always seem to be groping in the dark whenever it’s time for our search and rescue teams to get into serious business.
But even for the citizenry at large, how many are sufficiently prepared to face natural and other disasters while sure of at least mitigating the consequences?
Similarly for our urban development plans and infrastructure: we have not spent our finances, time and other resources most cost-effectively, and hence the heavy price we are paying. The weather is innocent; we are ourselves to blame. Serious soul-searching must follow.