Let’s build ‘staircases’ to end this thirst amid abundance of water

Saturday November 12 2022
Rufiji River basin in southern Tanzania.

Rufiji River basin in southern Tanzania. This country has so much water that we could, if only we would, make arrangements to sell some of it to a number of water-stressed countries. PHOTO | FILE | COURTESY


“In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty” are words we have all surely heard, words that I suspect were spoken a million years ago by some unnamed guru. In more recent days, the words were immortalised by a Jamaican reggae crooner who put them to a danceable melody under the title Rat Race in the 1970s.

What we have right now in Tanzania is not very far from what these words represent. This country has so much water that we could, if only we would, make arrangements to sell some of it to a number of water-stressed countries.

Yes, countries in the Middle East, for instance, which are awash with crude oil, could be talked into exchanging oil for water using a parity we could work out, litre for litre, since we know they have not started drinking crude, and water will never be out of fashion, as oil will soon be.

While awaiting that phase of the water-oil negotiations with the Arabs, we could be taking measures, here and now, to maximise the harvesting of water at every point. Torrents of water is flowing into the sea to become brine when we could build dams at every level of our geographical elevation. In this exercise, the whole country could become a mosaic of waterbodies dotting the countryside like many glistening mirrors.

Downward progression

I swear I am not joking. I close my eyes and see a most wondrous network of water sheets at the level of the Lake zone, Kigoma and Tabora pouring their waters at the next level below, so that the downward progression becomes a downward transfer to the next level downward, all the way through the central provinces of Dodoma, Singida, Morogoro, Coast and on to the ocean; a similar downward progression from Kilimanjaro and Arusha coming down through Tanga, Coast again, into the ocean.


At the same time, another line of water transference would be organised to serve the southern highlands and follow the descending topology through Morogoro, east to the Indian ocean.

All the while, our philosophy would be guided by the desire to spare as little water as possible that will go on and wash into the salty ocean. Our engineers would be deployed to build these dams as securely as possible to minimise the danger of higher-up waterbodies breaking banks and inundating the terrains below them.

In this way I am sufficiently crazy to have a mental vison of a system of giant, lush-green staircases descending (and rising) parallel to each other, from the coast all the way to the Great Lakes. At every step of the staircases I see orchards, hardwood forests and carpets of horticultural splendour: maize, okra, capsicum, aubergines, rosemary, spinach...

Ecological miracle

To complete the tableau, insert livestock such as sheep and goats, alongside what wild animals you want to adorn our modern-day Garden of Eden.

The satellite images of that ecological miracle would go viral around the world, perhaps encouraging other countries to do likewise, and in a very short time we would have swarms of tourists coming, not just to learn and replicate but also to enjoy life in sceneries that soothe the eye, calm the spirit and rekindle faith in human survival capacities.

I own up to having a wandering imagination, but I know this is no atomic science; other places in the world have created similar marvels, such as what is to be seen in Machu Pichu and elsewhere. Only ours would be grander.

While we are mulling my crazy dream, let’s wake up and go for the low-hanging fruits firmly within our reach: In colonial times one was not given a building permit in our towns unless one showed a building plan with gutters for rainwater harvesting. What happened to these?

I know colonialism was evil and did not mean to help us but rather to help the mzungu in exploiting us. But that does not mean we cannot see what they did that was good in furthering their interests that we could learn from to further ours.

Caught unawares

All these reflections keep coming to me because I worry about the people who govern us. Most times they are caught unawares by phenomena they should be thinking about all the time. One has to conclude that they have something more pressing to do that keeps them from doing what they told us they were going to do.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of a water crisis and their attitude is characteristically lackadaisical. The situation is bound to get worse with the water, and on its heels we will be faced with a serious food shortage. It will be another surprise, no doubt.

The other day, I heard some government officials lamenting their inability to get information circulating among top decision-making circles. Maybe that is where the problem resides. Any body of people brought together to tackle a task but cannot communicate effectively will fail, and in the abundance of water there will indeed be thirst.