This case study describes different responses to growing water scarcity in the dry season in the Usangu Plains, a catchment of the Great Ruaha River in South-West Tanzania. The Great Ruaha River is of national importance in terms of the utilisation of its water for significant rice production, maintaining a RAMSAR wetland site, meeting the ecological needs of the Ruaha National Park and the generation of hydro-electric power.
During the early nineties, a series of zero flows in this previously perennial river alerted the authorities to hydrological and environmental change in the Usangu Plains in the Upper Ruaha Basin.
The research projects, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Livestock Development and other partners, examined the causes of the drying up of the river and proposed solutions.
The analysis – based on results of two DFID (Department for International Development) projects, SMUWC (Sustainable Management of the Usangu Wetlands and its Catchment) and RIPARWIN (Raising Irrigation Productivity and Releasing Water for Intersectoral Needs) – incorporates a critical examination of the appropriateness of newly established river basin management structures to the problems and issues found.
Six main water resource users from upstream to downstream can be differentiated here:
- Rainfed farmers and domestic water users in the high catchment;
- Irrigators in the plains at the base of the escarpment;
- Domestic users and rainfed maize cultivators in the plains;
- Pastoralists and fishermen and women in the central wetland;
- Wildlife and tourists in the Ruaha National Park that surrounds the riverine reach;
- The Mtera/Kidatu hydropower schemes.
- The critical role and benefits of long-term, large-scale, interdisciplinary research;
- The difficulty in addressing entrenched views of “normal professionalism” (a term used to describe a rather inflexible discipline-focused approach) or the powerful local elite that result in misdistribution of water or inappropriate natural resource management;
- The need for local water development solutions to manage basin-level water scarcity.
Importance of the case for IWRM
A key conclusion is that managers of IWRM should continuously review and enrich the knowledge base, perceptions and processes of hydrological and system change in river basins with the aim of refining ‘an appropriate institutional response’.
In other words, we should not be satisfied with what appears to be an integrated water resources management approach, but critically unpack its components and identify modes of IWRM that are fully cognisant of the science, issues and responses at stake, and therefore deliver effective tailored solutions.
Photo credit: Paul Shaffner