Background of Our Work in Tanzania

About Tanzania

The United Republic of Tanzania is located in East Africa, in the African Great Lakes Region. Home to over 47 million inhabitants, Tanzania is politically governed as a presidential constitutional republic. The country has numerous and diverse water resources in the form of rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers, yet many of its largest water bodies are shared with neighboring countries and the subtropical climate results in high temporal variability in rainfall and river flows. Tanzania is divided into nine river basins which are the Pangani, Wami-Ruvu, Rufiji, Ruvuma, Lake Nyasa, Internal Drainage, Lakes Rukwa, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, and shares eleven international lakes and rivers with other nations including the three East African Great Lakes of Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa.

Despite its numerous water bodies, Tanzania faces water shortages in many areas: the distribution of water availability and population is uneven across the country and presents considerable water resource management challenges. The general trend is that river flows and lake levels are declining. This is reported to be caused by a range of both natural and manmade factors such as declining rainfalls, unsustainable water uses such as operational rules at hydropower plants, over abstraction of rivers and unsustainable agricultural expansion. Tanzania must meet and balance the increasing water demands from a broad range of pressures: a growing population, with water needed for food security, economic growth, and energy production. These pressures must furthermore be balanced against maintaining some of the most important ecosystems on the planet.

Water Challenges

Although Tanzania is relatively well-endowed with water resources, a variable and changing climate, limited technological choices, and constraints on infrastructure and investment present a challenge for effective water resources management (WRM) development. 

With an extremely low level of water storage capacity, and water availability that is highly variable in space and time, the country faces major constraints in securing enough water for its environmental, social, and economic needs. This must be done in the context of a variable and changing climate; limited technological choices; constraints on infrastructure and investment; and multiple institutional, political, and human resource challenges.

The economy’s susceptibility to flood and drought events is illustrated by a loss of approximately 1% of GDP resulting from a drought in 2005/6. During this period, the agriculture sector experienced an almost 20% decline in growth, and growth in the electricity and water sectors declined from 5.1% to -1.8% (URT, 2007). A recent government analysis estimated that overall GDP growth in 2011 was reduced from 7% to 6.4% due to drought affecting water and hydropower. A 0.6% reduction in GDP corresponds to US$ 142 million in 2011 prices and, based on average GDP per capita figures, is equivalent to a contribution to GDP of over a quarter of a million people.

Furthermore, there was a 60% decline in renewable freshwater resources available annually per person between 2002 and 2015. And continued population growth is likely to reduce water availability even further from 1,608 m³ per capita per year in 2015 to around 1,400 m³ by 2025, according to government projections.

Several examples are emerging from Tanzania of unreliable access to water resources imposing severe operational, financial, and reputational risks to business. Some enterprises have closed due to water insecurity, reducing much needed employment and export revenue earnings. Competition over water causes regular conflicts, and in the worst cases, violent clashes have resulted in fatalities. Improved WRM is essential to future stability and growth in Tanzania.

The sectors with the most significant water requirements in Tanzania are agriculture, domestic use in urban and rural areas, industry and commerce and environmental requirements. In particular, irrigation – which accounts for over 82% of water abstracted – will create additional demand for water; withdrawals are expected to double by 2035 as a result of the government’s objective to increase agricultural production.

Taking into account environmental flow requirements, during dry periods, national demand is 150% of accessible water. Under a business-as-usual scenario and factoring in economic growth projections, this increases to 216% by 2035.