Let’s build ‘stairs’ to quench this thirst amid plenty of water

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By JENERALI ULIMWENGU

“In the abundance of water, the fool thirsts” are words that we have all surely heard, words that I suspect were spoken a million years ago by an anonymous guru. More recently, the lyrics were immortalized by a Jamaican reggae crooner who set them to a danceable melody under the title Rat Race in the 1970s.

What we have now in Tanzania is not far removed from what these words represent. This country has so much water that we could, if only we wanted to, arrange to sell some of it to a number of water-stressed countries.

Yes, countries in the Middle East, for example, which are flooded with crude oil, could be made to exchange oil for water using a parity that we could establish, liter for liter, since we know that they haven’t started drinking crude oil, and water will never go out of fashion, as oil soon will.

While waiting for this phase of the water-oil negotiations with the Arabs, we could take steps, here and now, to maximize water harvesting at all points. Torrents of water pour into the sea to become brine when we could build dams at all levels of our geographical elevation. In this exercise, the entire country could become a mosaic of bodies of water dotting the countryside like so many sparkling mirrors.

Downward progression

I swear I’m not kidding. I close my eyes and see a most wonderful network of water sheets at the lake area, Kigoma and Tabora spilling their waters to the next lower level, so that the downward progression becomes a downward transfer to the next lower level , all the way through the central provinces of Dodoma, Singida, Morogoro, Coast and over the ocean; a similar downward progression from Kilimanjaro and Arusha through Tanga, Coast again, into the ocean.

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At the same time, another water transfer line would be organized to serve the southern highlands and follow the descending topology through Morogoro, east to the Indian Ocean.

All the while, our philosophy would be driven by the desire to spare as little water as possible which would continue to wash into the salty ocean. Our engineers would be deployed to build these dams in the safest way possible to minimize the risk of higher bodies of water breaking the banks and flooding the land below.

This way, I’m crazy enough to have a mental vision of a system of giant, verdant stairways descending (and ascending) parallel to each other from the coast to the Great Lakes. At each step of the stairs I see orchards, hardwood forests and carpets of horticultural splendor: corn, okra, pepper, eggplant, rosemary, spinach…

Ecological miracle

To complete the picture, insert livestock such as sheep and goats, alongside any wild animals you wish to adorn our modern-day Garden of Eden.

Satellite images of this ecological miracle would go viral around the world, perhaps encouraging other countries to do the same, and in a very short time we would have swarms of tourists coming, not just to learn and reproduce, but also to enjoy life in landscapes that soothe the eye, calm the mind and revive faith in human survival abilities.

I confess to having a wandering imagination, but I know that it is not an atomic science; other places around the world have created similar wonders, like what to see in Machu Pichu and elsewhere. Only ours would be bigger.

While we ponder my crazy dream, let’s wake up and aim for the low-hanging fruits firmly within our grasp: In colonial times, we didn’t get building permits in our cities unless we showed a plan of construction with gutters for the recovery of rainwater. What happened to these?

I know that colonialism was bad and that it did not want to help us, but rather to help the mzungu by exploiting us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t see what good things they did to advance their interests that we could learn from to advance ours.

Caught off guard

All these thoughts keep coming to me because I worry about the people who govern us. Most of the time, they are caught off guard by phenomena that they should be thinking about all the time. We must conclude that they have something more urgent to do which prevents them from doing what they told us they were going to do.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of a water crisis and their attitude is typically nonchalant. The situation can only get worse with water, and as a result we will face a severe food shortage. It will be another surprise, no doubt.

The other day, I overheard government officials lamenting their inability to get information to the top decision-makers. That may be where the problem lies. Any group of people gathered together to tackle a task but unable to communicate effectively will fail, and in the abundance of water there will indeed be thirst.

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