'Ephemeral Drought' by InasiaJones. Along the East Coast of Zanzibar at low tide, one can walk a long distance before touching the waves that seem kilometers away. Women of nearby villages come to collect seaweed and fishermen are returning home with their daily catch, while their boats seem out of place. Photo: InasiaJones / Trek Earth

By Erick Kabendera
12 June 2013

ZANZIBAR (IPS) – Khadija Komboani's nearest well is filled with salt water thanks to the rising sea around Tanzania's Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar.

And until recently, the 36-year-old mother of 12 from Nungwi village in Unguja on the northernmost part of Zanzibar, spent most of her day walking to her nearest fresh water supply to collect safe drinking water.

"The water is very salty so it can't be used for anything. You will use a lot of soap and water if you use it for washing clothes or dishes. Another difficulty is that you can't use it for cooking or drinking. That is why we had to walk for long distances to collect water from fresh water wells," Komboani tells IPS.

According to Zanzibar's Department of Environment, rising sea levels have resulted in seawater mixing with fresh water supplies and contaminating the wells here. Zanzibar does not have rivers and the main source of water remains groundwater, which depends on the currently erratic rainfall. "The villages used to be far from the shore, but now everyone lives close to the ocean," says Masoud Haji. […]

Ally Jabir Haiza, Zanzibar's district health officer, tells IPS that the water from shallow wells along the island's coast was tested and found to be excessively salty. This, he explains, impacted on healthcare in the area. In Unguja, a newly built maternity ward could not be used because of the shortage of clean water.

"Students too could not concentrate on their studies because they were frequently worried about fetching water when they returned home. And they were already tired when they commenced their lessons in the morning (from going to fetch water before school).

"Sometimes new mothers from Nungwi, who were experiencing postpartum stress, were forced to walk down the three-km road to fetch water from the nearest fresh water well," says Hiza.

But now that fresh water is being piped in, the residents of Nungwi village have access to more water - some 20 litres per day compared to the five litres a day they collected from their nearest fresh water wells.

According to Sheha Mjanja, director of environment in Zanzibar's Vice President's Office, several surveys conducted over the past 10 years have confirmed that the island is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, particularly rising sea levels and beach erosion.

"The impact of climate change in Nungwi village is one of the biggest challenges at the moment. The water is quickly eating into the land and we fear the situation could worsen," Mjanja tells IPS.

Mjanja adds that rising sea levels could cause a serious water shortage on the island as salt water is increasingly seeping into the ground water supply.

He says that the government is currently preparing a strategy paper to address the impact of climate change here and hopes to involve the private sector in implementing solutions.

Meanwhile, the elders here are witness to the impact climate change has had on this island. One community elder, 58-year-old Masoud Haji, tells IPS that over the years sea levels have risen about 80 metres.

"In December, we didn't see any rains, compared to when I was young. The ocean was far from the shore, but it has now risen … the villages used to be far from the shore, but now everyone lives close to the ocean," Haji says. [more]

Tanzania: Zanzibar's Encroaching Ocean Means Less Water via The Oil Drum

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