FOR thousands of Kilosa District residents it was a rude Boxing Day awakening. It had not rained from the sky, but devastative flash floods abruptly brought a long spell of drought to an end.
Village after village, everything was awash. Everybody was running to nowhere looking for protection. Even adults sought somebody to take them under their wing. They lost most of their possessions in the mud flow as their shelters tumbled.
Downpours in the distant Ukaguru Mountain range had overfilled upstreams feeding into River Mkondoa which then burst its banks on Kilosa plains. The floodwater not only inundated the crop fields and pasture land but also washed away everything on its way, turning thousands of people destitute.
Two weeks later, at about noon, a group of journalists from Dar es Salaam made it to the floodplains of Kilosa. Under the scorching sun, hundreds of flood victims were camped and crammed in the small buildings of Kilosa Town Primary School.
Literally speaking, nature had turned against mankind and forced these people into an intolerable situation as internally displaced persons. The sight brought to mind the images of conflict victims frequently shown by the media from war-torn and disaster-struck countries around the world.
Nobody was carrying firearms. Nobody was nursing a gunshot wound, a fracture or any bodily injury. But that would make a very little difference. Such scenarios whether borne of man-made disaster or a natural catastrophe have some similarities.
People of all ages gathered at the school camp looked desolate. Almost everybody was complaining about not getting enough to eat, enough to drink and enough attention. They slept rough on the oozy ground due to exhaustion but for those who stayed awake, worries about an indefinite stay in the same place filled their mind.
The camp is among 23 sites where the district authorities have set up temporary accommodation for about 10,204 people who were forced out of their homes by the floods. According to official figures made available at that time some 1,896 homesteads were rendered inhabitable by the floods.
Sometimes natural disasters have the tendency of creeping stealthily on their victims. And that’s how Mkondoa River burst on its riparian villages, according to 66-year-old Yohana Mamba, a resident of Kasiki Village.
Residents of at least eight wards in the same area, Mamba recalled, had noticed the rising water but took it as a normal phenomenon and that the water would soon subside to flow within the river banks. They were wrong.
The next day was Sunday and the people went about their routine activities with no anxiety about the unpredictable Mother Nature. At around 4 pm when rural people would usually bring their day’s business to an end, the river overflowed and put them on the run.
“Shortly before midnight that day I noticed some water flowing into my house through the backyard. At that time I decided to move some items from the house to a nearby empty space outside,” said Mamba, who had eight people in his house.
By the next morning, the entire family was overwhelmed by the flooding water and had to evacuate the house as a precautionary measure. The only place they could resort to was a nearby church.
“We had no where to run to. But the people at the church were sympathetic and gave us shelter for some time while we waited for assistance from the government. We had no tent that we could pitch somewhere for our shelter and we had nothing to eat,” he explained.
It was not easy, even for disaster management experts, to gauge on the spot the damage caused by the floods. That explains the cause of discontent that the flood victims vented to anybody on site.
In their opinion, though the government quickly responded to the tragedy its assistance to the victims was not felt physically. But the people forget that they should not depend on the government for every need. Preparedness for disaster should be in every home as a primary responsibility of every able-bodied person.
Among the flood victims were Kadonia Ulanga (24) and Fausta Paulo (63), residents of Behewa and Mbumi villages respectively. Both complained that they received very little aid to sustain them at the camp though they witnessed provisions being handed out to all affected persons as soon as they were available.
Disasters are likely to strike any time and in any place. When people are temporarily relocated due to natural disasters as the case in Kilosa District, the displaced require at minimum basic sustenance, including shelter, potable drinking water and sanitary facilities.
In addition, such emergencies may also require law enforcement, fire protection, medical and administrative services. The situation in Kilosa, however, does not call for long-term arrangements.
Despite some difficulties experienced over the past few days, perseverance should be the guide work for humanitarian workers as well as for the beneficiaries. In a temporary relocation, it’s useless for people to talk about matters of diet or their culinary skills.
Just as it took a few hours to see their lives shattered by the floods, it should take a short period of time for these people to see their normal life pick up again.
Such is the vision of Aziza Mohamed from Mbumi A Village. She wants the government to allocate the flood victims pieces of land where they can rebuild their homes and work on their own instead of waiting for handouts from relief agencies.
“The government should allocate us land to enable us to continue with our normal activities. We don’t want to keep on begging like this. We can produce and cater for ourselves,” said Aziza.
But Salma Amir Shamte of Kilosa town suspected that district officials were duping the victims into believing that aid was in the pipe line.
“They come here every time to write our names but they do not give us the aid. To be honest, most of the assistance allocated for the victims does not reach the targeted beneficiaries,” she claimed.
A mother of six children, Salma said she was disappointed to receive 15kg of maize as a two-week ration though District Commissioner Halima Dendego had assured them that there was enough food for all affected people.
Kilosa Town Primary School camp chairman, Said Mohamed, expressed the same opinion saying that flood victims at the camp had had ground for complaints.
“From the outset, the distribution of relief items was conducted haphazardly. We are now conducting a census to get the actual number of people in each affected family. That will enable us to ensure trouble-free and effective distribution the next time,” Mohamed told THISDAY.
Relief for Kilosa District, however, has not been flowing rapidly behind the trail of destruction caused by the floods. According to Mohamed, supplies for the victims trickled slowly.
“We are very many and yet the assistance we receive is little. Sometime we are given maize and rice but nothing to serve with it. We hardly get soap and while some of us have toddlers, we would expect to get some sugar to make porridge for them but we don’t,” he said.
Mohamed was also concerned about the people’s health. He said it was clear that malaria stalked them as mosquitoes were breeding in the flood waters and people had no bed nets to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
The Red Cross Society of Tanzania has distributed bed nets to some of the victims.
In addition, Mohamed blamed the victims’ grievances to lack of awareness and understanding. “When they see a truck offloading 200 bags of maize at the camp, they assume the whole lot is meant for this camp alone. They don’t think of the other 20 plus camps that are in similar need of assistance,” he said.
At another camp at Magomeni Primary School, flood victims had similar complaints. According to septuagenarian Asha Kisongela, they were in dire need of food and other basic facilities.
“We are tired of hearing apologetic statements from the government. We want nothing but assistance,” she told journalists from Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, mistaking them for humanitarian workers.
“Everyone who comes here tells us ‘sorry for the tragedy’ and leaves. We need assistance and not verbal sympathy. We need beans, sugar, clothes and other essential services,” Kisongela added.
The camp’s chairman, Abdul Bona, confirmed that the victims were surviving in a harsh condition and that humanitarian aid had been delayed to reach them.
According to Kilosa Acting District Administrative Officer, Prisca Shewali, authorities in the district have established 23 camps to shelter the flood affected population. The floods had by then claimed two lives, she said.
About 1,143 houses were completely destroyed while 5,605 others were submerged in water. All buildings housed about 23,980 people. The floods have also interrupted education programmes because primary schools in the area have been turned into temporary camps for the victims.
Shewali said that members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) were already on the ground assessing the situation before they could extend technical assistance.
President Jakaya Kikweye ordered the soldiers to provide assistance and rehabilitate the infrastructure that was destroyed by the flooding.
“TPDF will assist us with temporary structures so that these schools can be reopened,” Shewali added.
Many residents of Kilosa District will recall the floods for many years as a life-changing experience. But while they struggle with the current hassles, they are, at least assured, that the nation stands with them and it is fully committed to help them despite the logistical challenges that relief providers have to face.
Indeed, this is yet another humanitarian challenge to the nation in which some individuals, government agencies and non-governmental organizations have made outstanding contribution for the good of the affected communities.
From this tragedy, however, there should emerge good rural development planning that takes into account environment and infrastructure protection. Local communities and district authorities should not go back to business as usual without taking a lesson from this experience.