Tanzania gives free land to coax flood victims from disaster zones

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 02, 2015 7:11 AM

By Kizito Makoye

DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The short video that Matilda Kasele plays on her phone shows water rushing into her house, submerging all her belongings.

Those images are all that she and her family have left of their home after a barrage of floods in May destroyed the building and all their belongings.

"We have lost everything," Kasele, 37, told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We could not salvage anything because the water started pouring into the house at night.”

Kasele and her family, who live in the low-lying Kinondoni district, are among the hundreds of Tanzanian residents who have been repeatedly hit by flooding.

Since April, a spate of heavy downpours has been pounding Dar es Salaam, leaving dozens dead and thousands homeless, and wreaking havoc with the fragile city's infrastructure.

For years, the Tanzanian government has tried to get low-income families to move out of disaster zones but the residents have usually refused, saying they cannot afford to leave and need to live close to the city center.

Now the government is taking a softer approach, by offering free land to flood victims who agree to relocate.

"It's high time the people living in the valleys moved out of those areas, otherwise this problem will never end," President Jakaya Kikwete told scores of flood-hit residents. "We will get you land in safer areas on which to build your new homes."

The government estimates that about 70 percent of the city's five million residents live in informal settlements that lack adequate drainage systems, making them prone to flooding.

Hundreds of residents have already accepted the government's offer, Kasele and her husband among them.

"This is not the first time the flood waters have gotten into my house, but I think this time it was too much," said her husband, who had to rescue his children from a balcony during the floods, and was unsure if they would make it out alive.

Now, "I had better hear the government's call and get out of danger," he said.

DECLARING DISASTER ZONES

Working with district authorities, the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner’s office has been identifying and registering residents willing to move, with the intent of issuing the first batch of new title deeds in August.

According to Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Said Meck Sadick, some houses that obstruct the flow of water from nearby Wazo hill to the Indian Ocean — and thereby increase the flood risk — will be demolished after assessment by the city engineers.

"The owners of those houses will be compensated and the government will also allocate them new sites," he said.

Sadick says more than 2,500 families whose homes are constructed in hazardous areas need to relocate. The government will mobilize funds from local and central government coffers to accomplish the project, he said, after surveyors have assessed thousands of hectares of unused government-owned land to find suitable plots.

The government will also declare certain flood-prone areas disaster zones, Sadick added, giving regional and district authorities the power to forcefully evict anyone who erects a new structure on the land.

Kinondoni district resident Kasele says she is grateful for the opportunity to move her family to safer ground. She plans to get a bank loan to start building a new home as soon as she secures the title deed.

And she hopes the government will help with building materials, as it did in 2011 when it relocated some flood victims from the Jangwani area to a new area just north of Dar es Salaam.

"I have suffered huge loss and I don’t want to suffer any more," Kasele said. "I know it will take time to start afresh, but at least I will have peace of mind."

(Reporting by Kizito Makoye; editing by Jumana Farouky and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)