The catchment has the potential to produce 50 per cent of Tanzania’s installed hydroelectric power and accounts for about 40 per cent of rice produced in the country, not to mention some of the highest food-producing regions in the country- Mbeya, Njombe and Iringa.
The Ruaha catchment also hosts the largest national park in the country, the Ruaha National Park, which is home to 20,000 elephants and 4,000 bird species, the highest number in the world.
“Yet the water demand in the catchment area and beyond outstrips the available supply, a situation that has grossly affected flows of the river.
The increasing population engaging in agriculture and other activities has stripped the river and indeed the catchment of its ability to support all water users whose livelihoods are pegged on the river,” said Idris Msuya, Rufiji Basin Water Officer, at a recent stakeholder meeting convened to discuss the Rufiji Basin Integrated Water Resources ManagementDevelopment Plan as well as launch the Great Ruaha Restoration Campaign.
The Campaign which is a joint initiative by the 2030 Water Resources Group Tanzania Partnership(2030WRG), SAGCOT Centre, Rufiji Basin Water Board (RBWB), CEO Round Table of Tanzania (CEOrt) and WWF Tanzania seeks to address water challenges facing users in the Rufiji Basin by implementing the recommendations suggested in the IWRMD Plan.
Some research findings have shown that smallholder farmers abstract more water than they require out of which only 20 percent is productive. The rest is wasted.
An increase in commercial and urban water demand has implications on the basin’s current water availability.
Expansion in irrigation, changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate change and extreme high temperature are set to strainfurther thequality and availability of water in future.
Since 1993 when sections of the river dried up, the situation has grown worse. Except for 2009, the years between 2000 and 2001 have seen disjointed flows of the river and in some cases the dry periods extending to 120 days in a year.
Over the years, a number of stakeholders have taken measures to respond to the situation and reverse the trend. They include WWF with the Ruaha Water Programme which is currently implementing the Sustainable Water Access, Use and Management Programme (SWAUM).
Other partners who have implemented projects in the Ruaha catchment and Rufiji basin in general include district councils in Mbeya, Njombe and Iringa Regions.
“The new partnership will employ various measures with the aim of protecting and conserving the Rufiji Basin’s diverse habitats and ecosystems through strict observance of environmental flows.
It will also promote integrated land, pasture, forest and water resources management to enhance sustainability of agriculture and related activities,” OnesmoSigalla who is the 2030 WRG Tanzania Country Representative told representatives of various stakeholders who attended the meeting.
The GRRC seeks to consolidate water governance so as to scale up institutional coordination and stakeholders’ participation as well as institute equitable allocation and efficient use of water resources.
The GRRC is grounded on the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRMD) Plan which seeks to address the situation by looking at critical issues from a broader scale in the Rufiji Basin to which the Ruaha catchment is part of.
“The IWRMD Plan is more than a water plan; it is also a business plan. That is why it spells out very clearly the role of the business community in reversing the water situation in the Rufiji Basin,” said Prof. ArisGeorgakakos, Chairman of the Water Resources and Energy Management (WREM) International of Atlanta USA, which prepared the IWRMD Plan.
According to the Rufiji Basin IWRMD Plan, assessment for future climate projections over the Basin shows that temperatures will continue to rise and floods and droughts are projected to increase in frequency and intensity. This means that the Basin will in future be subjected to severe impacts of climate change.
“Watershed evaporation and transpiration are expected to increase due to the influence of warmer temperatures, and a net decrease in water availability is predicted in all parts of the Basin due to climate change,” reads part of the IWRMD Plan.
Regarding consumption of water the Plan finds that the average consumption of water in the Great Ruaha sub-basin using the baseline year 2010 was 73 percent of average of dry season flow while the rainy season flow stood at about 41 percent.
This rate of consumption is not sustainable and is already causing several environmental and economic problems including shrinkage of the Ihefu wetland, long no-flow periods in the Ruaha National Park that have been witnesses for several years and minimal power reduction at Mtera hydropower station.
“Thus agricultural expansion advocated by SAGCOT, BRN and other national programmes is not sustainable for Usangu and the Great Ruaha Region under current irrigation efficiency conditions,” says the Plan.
The IWRMD Plan has suggested a series of urgent interventions that aim to enforce strict agricultural water usage regulation and restore environmental conditions in Ruaha National Park and Usangu valley.
It also aims to enhance long-term irrigation water efficiency and calls for a temporary moratorium on expansion of irrigation farming across the Great Ruaha sub-basin until water and environmental conditions are restored to sustainable levels.
The plan also recommends a combination of measures to improve water efficiency and reduce water consumption through improvement of irrigation infrastructure and the introduction of water-saving agricultural practices.
A specific recommendation is that current agricultural water use levels should be reduced by 25 to33 percent in order to reduce annual irrigation shortages.
It alsoprovides four options for addressing the water scarcity problem in the Usangu catchment. They include the construction of high altitude storage reservoirs in the headwater regions the Great Ruaha sub-catchment basin.
This should go hand-in-hand with increased use of ground water. Another option is construction of a storage reservoir on the Ndembera River that may also be used to generate electricity and may also transfer water directly to Ruaha National Park.
Other options are construction of a regulator dam at the outlet of Ihefu wetland and different irrigation water efficiency improvement levels.
“The Plan recommends that the second option, construction of a storage reservoir on the Ndembera River as this would be able to support wet season irrigation of 3,300 hectares of rice in Madibira at the current water efficiency rates, provide four cubic metres per second to Ihefu wetland during the dry season and one cubic metre per second during the dry season to restore the historical minimum wetland levels and generate power at the rate of 3,000MWh per month,” explained Prof. Georgakakos when introducing the plan to the stakeholders of the Rufiji Basin.
Further irrigation expansion in Madibira would be possible after the stabilization of theIhefu wetland and the restoration of all-year flow into the Ruaha National Park.
Another recommendation is the introduction of water use caps in the catchment of smaller rivers such as Little Ruaha, LukosiKisigo and Iyovi .
Although these have some room for irrigation expansion, the already very high consumption of water of water in Usangu Valley the measure is vital so that power generation at Mtera and Kidatu hydropower stations does not continue to decline.
The IWRMD Plan also recommends constructionof a storage reservoir on the Little Ruaha River in order to stabilize dry season flows given the high and increasing agricultural water use in the Little Ruaha catchment.
It is worth noting here that the process to develop the IWRDM plan was based on core strategic areas around which interventions have been proposed.
One strategic area is the development of and improvement of water supply and sanitation services in order to provide for the social needs of the basin population.
This would require, among other things, increasing safe water and improving sanitation coverage in rural areas by developing water resources and promoting the construction of sanitation facilities in accordance with national targets for the rural water sub-sector.
Another strategy is to develop water resources to support multiple economic activities thereby contributing to raisin employment opportunities, household incomes, food security and energy security.
One of the measures to implement the strategy would be implemented through development of hydropower and other renewable energy resources in line with the National Power System Master Plan.
It would also require increasing agricultural productivity and production by expanding irrigation while adhering to the projected limits, as well as increasing livestock productivity and production by developing more supplies and relevant infrastructure.
Other strategic areas includemanaging the risks of floods, droughts and impacts of climate change through a judicious mix of structural and non-structural measures as well as protecting and conserving the diverse habitats and ecosystems.
It is also deemed necessary to consolidate water governance in order to enhance institutional coordination and stakeholder participation so as to ensure equitable allocation and efficient use of water resources.
“The Great Ruaha Restoration Campaign partners must become the agents of change we want to see by undertaking a new approach that is needed in dealing with current and future water challenges,” said Prof. Georgakakos.