One important observation about the research findings on the environmental and socio-economic challenges facing Dar es Salaam, meaning the “Haven of Peace”, is that they are telling us the obvious. Sponsored by the Vice President’s Office Division of Environment, the report whose content was published by the media this week is rather alarming, as well.
One of the obvious revelations is the fact that Dar es Salaam’s population continues to grow at such a fast pace that the urban authorities don’t seem to cope with it, especially in terms of provision of services required to give the residents a fairly acceptable standard of living.
While data from the latest census is still being processed, estimates put the city’s population at 4.5 million. But this is conservative figure, and one wonders whether the latest count, which was a bit sabotaged by religious fanatics, may easily solve the riddle of how many souls reside in the “Haven of Peace.”
The population of Dar es Salaam keeps growing uncontrollably partly because although Dodoma was declared the country’s capital, some decades ago, a move partly rationalised by the desire to decongest the former capital, the city continues to overshadow Dodoma in many ways.
A keen observation of the expansion of business, the building industry, cultural, administrative and other activities, clearly show that Dar remains unequalled, not only when compared to Dodoma, but also to the rest of the cities in Tamnzania.
The population factor, as hinted earlier, turns out to spur all sorts of complications which make Dar es salaam a nightmare - especially to those in the low income bracket and the unemployed, whose number is not only significant, but also keeps rising daily. The Environmental Division in the Vice President’s Office had the environmental aspect in mind when it conceived and supervised this specific research, and got a ready answer that the environment is at stake, thanks to the congestion and other complications resulting from a situation where the rapidly increasing population lacks adequate infrastructure to serve it.
So here we are. Resources like water and land are overstretched. The daily produced waste and sewage can’t be managed due to lack of facilities, thus ending to a stinking environment, in most areas. Transport and housing turn into a nightmare.
The army of beggars, criminals, sex workers and idlers keep rising as well, creating all sorts of socio-economic challenges in the process. The list of complications is endless, and the fact that a good number of cities in the third world countries are in a similar situation offers no relief to those experiencing this difficult situation.
Suggestions put forward in the report on what can be done to put things right in Dar es Salaam are interesting too. They include encouraging residents to move to the city outskirts, by first extending basic services to the targeted areas as a way of attracting potential movers to new locations - probably a good suggestion. But expecting local government authorities who currently can’t provide services to the core city to go to the outskirts first does not look practical.
Then there is this idea of creating satellite towns outside the city. This has worked in many areas, and one may as well add that this has to be done in such a way that the towns should be well planned to avoid planning errors which partly contribute to the mess prevailing in our cities today.
What is clear at this stage is that building satellite towns, and putting in place a master plan to restructure our city to cope with future challenges, will require a lot in terms of financial resources, which local Government authorities cannot easily outsource by way of levies from city residents.
This means the Central Government has to intervene and play a role to save Dar es Salaam from further degeneration - much as it apparently seems to be developing.
One may as well conclude that the measures we take to sort out things in a city like Dar es Salaam may eventually provide useful lessons on how to manage other cities, which are also growing fast.
A complementary approach in this matter would be to attempt and stem the tide of rural-urban migration. This, however, does not seem to work in a situation where measures to check rural poverty have so far proved futile. We have no much choice other than planning to cope with mega cities in the making.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org