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When the floodwaters hit home

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 2 May 2013 11:45 GMT
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Children play outside flooded homes in Tegeta Nyaishoz neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on May 1, 2013. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Kizito Makoya
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As a journalist who has reported widely on climate change, I regularly have watched authorities in Dar es Salaam removing flood victims from their homes in low-lying districts as increasingly extreme rainfall pounded the city.

But I never imaged that the city’s weather extremes could affect my own family. I was wrong.

On Tuesday morning I woke up at 5:20 a.m. to prepare my daughter for school in time to catch her bus at 6:30 a.m. When I opened the door, I saw our lawn completely submerged.

I saw many houses in the neighborhood were underwater after heavy overnight rains. The rains were so severe that our Tegeta Nyaishoz area on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam was completely cut off from the rest of the city for some hours before the water started to recede.

The floodwaters had pushed to the very foundations of our house. I was quite anxious to figure out an emergency exit if the water should force its way into the house, but my wife assured me as to the strength of the concrete walls surrounding it.

The floods were a surprise, but also, I believe, a grim reminder that the infrastructure of this sprawling city of 4 million is struggling to cope with a growing population and changing conditions. The city is increasingly susceptible to natural disasters, which now occur almost every year as a result of poor planning and lack of political will among leaders to fix worn-out drainage systems and other infrastructure.

In Dar, the floods have mostly affected people in low-lying areas, but that is changing. This time, virtually everybody in the city felt the severity of the extreme weather in one way or another, with residents in low-lying areas washed from their homes while bridges, roads and other buildings were destroyed.

We were luckier. My daughter Karen, worried about missing classes, eventually made it onto her bus, thanks to a driver who positioned the vehicle to allow her to climb in through a back door.

But I was late joining the bumper-to-bumper traffic to the city centre. With my small car I tried to defy the water but my efforts were in vain. Soon I was stuck in muddy water, and had to seek help from neighbours who eventually successfully pulled it out.

We consider ourselves lucky because several houses in the neighborhood, unlike ours, were submerged, forcing their occupants to seek refuge with neighbours.

How real is extreme weather? I was in Tanzania’s Singida region last month where farmers are longing for a drop of water to revive their dying crops. Here in Dar es Salaam, so much rain is falling that it has become a menace rather than a blessing.

I must admit that I have never taken weather forecasts seriously, preferring to flip the television channel to something more entertaining. Now I will watch.

Across Dar es Salaam, a growing number of people are joining me in the habit, out of fear. The Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) has repeatedly warned residents to exercise great care during rainy season. Not everyone is listening, but the warnings are increasingly being taken seriously.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es  Salaam.

 

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