Maasai at risk as dam becomes waterborne breeding site

03May 2016
Lusekelo Philemon
The Guardian
Maasai at risk as dam becomes waterborne breeding site

FOR more than six decades, Maasai pastoralist communities in Sepeko Ward of Monduli District, Arusha Region have been depending on Nadosito dam, the water reservoir that collects rainwater from different directions in the area.

Maasai used it for drinking and other domestic use. Don’t forget that the same source is used to drink livestock.

The 61-year-old dam is the main source of water for more than 10,000 people from four villages in the Sepeko Ward and neighboring wards. In recent years, the story of the dam is changing as its depth has gone down due to siltation as a result of environmental degradation that fuels erosion.

The man-made dam is the only source of water for ordinary Maasai who rely on one US dollar a day is being heavily polluted, making the dam a breeding site of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, salmonella, typhoid fever, and cholera.

This alone could thwarts Tanzania towards meeting the global agenda that by 2030 countries should improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.

“For an ordinary man like me, I have to rely on this source of water because I have no financial muscles to buy a tanker of clean water for drinking and other uses,” said Popayo Mbuyo is a resident of Alkata village, where the dam is located.

He further complained that water drawn from the dam is being shared by a human being and livestock, the situation that put people at risk of diarrhoea, dysentery, salmonella, typhoid Fever, and cholera.

Mbuyo described water from the dam as milky in color all the time of the year, though according to him things become worse during dry season (between August and October); “at this time of the year, the dam dries up, small spots of water, where people go and fetch water, irrespective of being contaminated as we have no any other option.”

“In short the water from this source is the main source of diseases in this area,” says Joseph Mesopilo, a villager in the area, where the worth of somebody is being judged according to the herds of cattle he has.

He said sharing with animals in the dam has become a normal thing, “we share with animals, but people have nothing to do as that is the only source of water. We have no rivers no water wells as other people have in other areas.”

According to him, villagers reported several times to the government, but nothing has been done.

Kulunju Ngoyo is a water secretary in the village who urged the government to chip-in and improve water sources in the drought-stricken area, which is located near Ngorongoro conservation area.
Mwarabu Alarusi is a village chairperson who admitted that water situation in the area is appalling. “It becomes worse during dry season water from the dam becomes sour. Some animals are being trapped inside the dam and some animals die there.”

He disclosed that the dam is filled by rainwater from whatever direction, some water comes from residential areas (taking into account that we Maasai don't use toilets); this alone makes it unfit for human consumption.

Before coming up with the new technology to treat water without using chemicals, a 32-year-old Stanislaus Ntavangu who is a student at the Arusha-based Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) pursuing masters of environmental science and engineering, carried out a study on water available in the dam.

The idea behind the study was to see how it was safe and fit for human use.
For him, the study was part of accomplishing his coursework assignment, as never thought that it will turn into something that would save the larger community.

As the requirement of any scientific study, Ntavangu collected samples of water from the Nadosoito man-made dam located in Sepeko ward of Monduli district, north-west of Arusha city. The water samples were taken to the institute’s labs. The labs’ results shocked him, his colleagues and his tutors too.

According to Ntavangu, the study findings show that water from the dam wasn’t safe for any use to be it for a human being or livestock.

“In the study we find that the turbidity in water is between 1600 and 1200 of the Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU); but the standard level of turbidity is between 10 and 25NTU,” he said.
Turbidity is a measure of the degree to which the water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particulates. The more total suspended solids in the water, the murkier it seems and the higher the turbidity. Turbidity is considered as a good measure of the quality of water.

Despite the fact that Tanzania Bureau of Standard is directing that the amount of siltation in the dam should be between five and 25 NTU, residents in the area seem to be unaware of the healthy challenge ahead of them.

“The reason is simple, that there is no other water source of water around in the drought-stricken district,” the researcher stressed.

It’s the only source of water for human beings and livestock in the area which has no piped water since Tanzania’s independence in the 1960s.

Built in 1955 (colonial time), no repair has been made in the dam, making some of its walls brocken threatening the survival of the water source.

Kaloli Njau is the associate professor at NM-AIST and Head of School of Materials, Energy, Water and Environmental Sciences (MEWES) who said: “It’s a common thing for researchers from the Pan African University to study the quality of water used by a human being for the nearby community in Arusha.”
He said that the idea is to ensure that people benefit out of the presence of NM AIST-Arusha—one in a network of Pan-African Institutes of Science and Technology located across the continent.

These institutes, which are the proud brainchild of Nelson Mandela, envision training and developing the next generation of African scientists and engineers with a view to impacting profoundly on the continent’s development through the application of science, engineering, and technology (SET).

“So, we’re very proud of our student for his hard work and innovation,” he says, adding: “The student developed a technology to treat water without using chemicals, but after treating the water becomes fit for human use.”

Prof. Njau says, the institute came up with a pilot project with the financial support from the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), “this pilot project is aimed at treating the water in the dam without using chemicals.”

But, another challenge is a breakdown of the important section of the dam that is used to release water once the dam is full, the situation that threatens the water treatment project.

Njau who is a Principal coordinator of the pilot project says Nadosioto is just examples of many dams built in northern Tanzania which had a similar challenge. “So, the successful implementation of the project will help other people across the region and the country at large.”

Water shortage in Tanzania has been a problem for years now; the problem is even bigger in rural villages.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water in Tanzania.

It has been well documented that water shortage has been caused by population growth, high-level consumption and climate change which has shrunk the resource of water.

It is estimated that in rural Tanzania people walk for 2 to 3 km daily in search of water from public taps where available, or natural streams and carrying heavy containers on their heads of about 20 to 25 litres per trip.

According to Tanzania’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, in rural areas only 44 percent of people in 2015 had access to water. It is also estimated that each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoea diseases

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