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Population, Migration, and Water Conflicts in the Pangani River Basin, Tanzania

Population, Migration, and Water Conflicts in the Pangani River Basin, Tanzania

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Published by The Wilson Center
Milline J. Mbonil describes how population growth and migration "have intensified local water conflicts."
Milline J. Mbonil describes how population growth and migration "have intensified local water conflicts."

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: The Wilson Center on Sep 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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lthough essential for human survival, water is inherently inequitable, as it israrely evenly distributed among popu-lations. Local users compete to obtain theirshare, which can intensify existing tensions andsometimes lead to violence where the supply of  water does not meet demand (Gleick, 2006;Huggins, 2000). Water availability is one of themajor constraints on economic development,particularly for developing countries likeTanzania, because lack of water limits food pro-duction and economic activities such as indus-try and commerce (Madulu & Zaba, 1998).Many conditions may trigger conflicts,including jurisdictional ambiguities, miscom-munication, and competition between sectorsand users.In this article, I describe how popula-tion growth and migration in Tanzania’sPangani River basin—arguably the most water-stressed basin in the country—have intensifiedlocal water conflicts.
Resolving these conflictsrequires understanding the socio-cultural con-text of the local communities and increasing stakeholder involvement in water management.For my case study, I selected about 10 per-cent of the households in every village in thestudy area (see map) with the help of villageleaders, and administered structured question-naires to the heads of households. I sampledmore villages in the highlands because they hold more of the population than the lowlands.
The Pangani Basin
The Pangani River basin drains a large area in thenortheastern part of the country along the bor-der with Kenya, extending from Mount Meruand Mount Kilimanjaro down through the Pareand Usambara ranges. The major sources of  water in the basin, which has a total catchmentarea of about 42,000 sq. km, are endangered by environmental degradation, climate change, andincreased use (IUCN, 2003). Several studiesshow that the Pangani basin is already water-stressed—the river’s flow has decreased dramati-cally in recent years—and water demand isexpected to double by 2015 (see, e.g., IUCN,2003).The basin’s water originates largely from rainfalling on the mountains of Meru, Kilimanjaro,and Pare, and partly from snow melting fromKibo Peak (Mt. Kilimanjaro). The lowlandshave reserves of underground water andsprings, which are recharged by rain from themountains. The climate of the Pangani basinvaries widely by location and altitude. The rela-tively flat lowlands have an average annual rain-fall of less than 500 mm, while the slopes of Mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru have an averageannual rainfall exceeding 2,000 mm per year.More than 50 percent of the basin receives anaverage annual rainfall of only 500-600 mm; without the Pangani River the area would besemi-arid (Japanese International Corporation Agency [JICA], 1988).
Population, Health, Environment, and Conflict
Population, Migration, and WaterConflicts in the Pangani River Basin,Tanzania
Milline J. Mbonile
is a professor in theDepartment of Geography/DemographicTraining Unit at the University of Dar esSalaam, Tanzania. He received a master’sdegree in demography from CairoDemographic Center and a doctorate in popu-lation studies from the University of Liverpool.He has published extensively on populationmobility, displaced and marginalized people,and population and development.
Population and Migration in thePangani River Basin
Population Growth
The population of both rural and urban areasof the Pangani River basin—currently home to3.7 million inhabitants—is rapidly growing (IUCN, 2003). In the first half of the 21st cen-tury, the population is predicted to doubleevery 20 years in rural areas and every 10 yearsin urban areas (University of Dar es Salaam &United Nations, 1993). Ninety percent of thepopulation lives in the highlands, leading to a population density of up to 300 people per sq.km, compared to 65 people per sq. km in thelowlands (IUCN, 2003). This rapid populationgrowth and high population density could helpgenerate conflicts over natural resources asscarcity grows (Mbonile, 1999a).
Displacement and Mobility 
The historyof the Pangani basin is marked by the continuous marginalization of the indige-nous population by both internal and externalmigrants. Despite widespread resistance fromthe indigenous population, during the colonialperiod land was commandeered for large-scaleplantations of wheat, coffee, sugar cane, andsisal, and for resettling World War II veterans(Spear, 1996). This massive settlement led toone of the largest population displacements inTanzania. Agro-pastoralists and herders forcedto move from the better-watered Ngare-Nyukiarea migrated to more marginal lands occupiedby pastoralists like the Maasai. After Tanzania’s independence in 1964, theestablishment of national parks and gamereserves like Tarangire, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, andMkomazi took land from both agro-pastoralistsand pastoralists, leading to massive displacementand migration. Large tracts of land were alsoappropriated for the Kilimanjaro International Airport and more large-scale wheat farms in West Kilimanjaro (Campbell, 1999).The population at the middle altitudes(2,500-3,000 meters above sea level) tradition-ally migrated to the higher altitudes (3,500-4,000 meters) to grow perennial food cropssuch as bananas and cash crops like coffee(Kimambo, 1996). More recently, as the popu-lation has grown and land in the highlands hasdeteriorated, people from the core middle alti-tudes instead colonized marginal agriculturalland in the basin lowlands, which had previous-ly been dominated by pastoralists (Maro, 1975;Maddox et al., 1996; Mbonile, 1999b). Inaddition, migrants moved from the highlandsto more remote lowlands, escaping fromdrought and famine, or seeking more space forsettlement (Gould, 1992).
In-migration and Urbanization
Most migrants from outside the basin comefrom neighboring parts of the country. New 
Location of the Study Area in the Pangani River Basin
Mbonile (2005).
developments within the basin—such as theLower Moshi irrigation scheme, new towns,and tanzanite mines—have attracted migrantsfrom more distant regions. The development of Kilimanjaro International Airport and theincreasing urbanization of regional headquar-ters like Arusha and Moshi have attracted in-migrants seeking access to water, schools, andhealth services. Water consumption in urbanareas has grown more than 500 times since thefirst installations were built in the 1950s, andthe number of connections has increased morethan 300 times (JICA, 1988; Kironde &Ngware, 2000).Large-scale migrant farmers from other partsof the country, motivated by the cultivation of new cash crops like soybeans and flowers, took over large tracts in the lowlands. Today, cultiva-tion of marginal lands—areas previously reserved for pastoralists—extends to interiordistricts, generating new frontiers for land and water conflicts. Some pastoralists have beenforced to change their social and economicactivities; for example, young Maasai havemigrated in large numbers to major urban cen-ters in the country for employment (Kweka,1999; Mbonile, 2001).
Water Conflicts in the Basin
My study identified seven major groups of  water conflicts in the Pangani River basinbetween the following users:Communities and conservationists;Upstream and downstream users;Hydroelectricity producers and other users;Communities and donor agencies;Farmers and pastoralists;Rural and urban areas; andCommunities and river basin authorities.Table 1 lists the results of the study accord-ing to type of conflict and cases reported.
Communities and Conservationists 
In the highlands, water catchment conserva-tionists conflict with the community. Theestablishment of national parks like theKilimanjaro and Meru Forest Reserves to con-serve catchment areas and increase tourismhas generated conflicts between both farmersand pastoralists. The farmers would like touse the conservation areas for farming andfuelwood gathering. The pastoralists wouldlike to graze or move their livestock in theconserved areas. Discussions with farmers andpastoralists, as well as village and courtrecords, revealed 136 incursions between thecommunity and the national park authoritiesand workers between 1998-2000. On mostoccasions, the community members werefined or ended up in court. Often, the com-munity responded by setting fire to the forestor fetching firewood illegally, in addition topoaching wildlife.To resolve this problem, government andnational park authorities introduced communi-ty participation in natural resources conserva-tion, including water conservation. In addition,the park authorities now employ young peopleas tourist guides. However, some villages andcommunities such as the Maasai still believethat the benefits they receive are relatively smallcompared to the amount of grazing land andother benefits they have lost.
Upstream and Downstream Users 
Traditional furrow irrigation schemes, largely organized bysmall-scale farmers, cover about80 percent of the irrigated land in the upperPangani basin (Pangani Basin Water Office,1997; Kaniki, 1980). However, despite dating back to the 19th century, these irrigation meth-ods are a major source of conflict because mostof the time they use water inefficiently due tothe lack of proper technologies and mainte-nance (Pangani Basin Water Office, 1997).In the past, traditional furrow irrigation wasconcentrated in the highlands, but as migrationincreased this system spread to the lowlands;the increase in demand for irrigation caused thetraditional system of rationing water to collapsesometime in the mid-1980s (Mwamfupe,2001). In the highlands, stakeholders were notallocated adequate water by the controllers of 

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