If you’re reading this from outside of Tanzania, chances are you haven’t heard that large swaths of the 3-million plus city of Dar es Salaam have been underwater for several days. It’s a situation of superlatives: flash floods due to several month’s worth of rain in 72 hours, including the highest rainfall ever recorded in a single day, have caused the worst flooding the city has seen in 57 years. Thousands are homeless, much of the city has been paralyzed with damaged roads and power outages. The BBC published one article, and AccuWeather posted a video, but aside from that the disaster hasn’t registered much of a peep yet outside of the country.
If the flow of information outside of Tanzania has been a mere trickle, communication within the country has its own major blockages that are already fodder for a nasty blame game. The government blames residents that have been warned not to construct homes in low-lying areas and “lazy engineers” that have been told time and again to fix roads and bridges. Residents and researchers have warned the government about blocked drainage systems and allowing big new developments on wetlands that don’t pay attention to flood risks (see Twitter posts below, for example). The Tanzanian Meteorological Society apparently issued warnings of high rains that were ignored by everyone.
The immediate institutional response to the floods hasn’t received rave reviews either, though rescue crews have been hard at work. Here’s a stark example from a conversation between the federal disaster management authorities and a local paper yesterday:
“The director of disaster management in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Joseph Shiyo, said he was on leave and directed this paper to contact Ms Nyachenge Nanai, who declined to comment. ‘I’m sorry…I think the procedure is known. I cannot comment on the matter, sorry,’ she said before hanging up.“
Where information has been slow or lacking from the sources you’d most expect it from, Twitter seems to be filling a void – a search for #DarFloods yielded a community of people that are active with the latest relief effort (and also a lot of questions about what the heck is happening in the city). Here’s a sampling:
General Information (note the first tweet is from the President himself)
@jmkikwete: Share and raise awareness on the situation through #DarFloods and SMS. (+255 754 777 775)
@IamNchaKALIH: 23 DEAD, about 68 injured and 4000 dar residents displaced due to floods caused by heavy downpour, the heaviest since 1954 #darfloods
@GillsaInt: At Mchikichini relief centre. Lot of homeless people. At least they are having dinner n water #DarFloods
@Tanganyikan: Here @AmorMtage serving food to more than 600 victims #darfloods
The Blame Game
@AfricanGenesis: You cannot neglect backbone of eco development e.g. infrastructure and yet pursue huge goals! Look at our drainage today! #darfloods
@wilbrodslaa: #darfloods: Poor drainage system. While collecting billions in tax, the city is running on one of the oldest drainage systems in East Africa.
I’ll leave you with a few images pulled from Twitter, blogs, and a bike ride I took this evening to get a sense of the damage. A lot of people have lost everything. Please think of them during the holiday season and after.
Tanzanian forces in a rescue boat | Photo: President Kikwete's Twitter feed
Damage to the Selander Bridge and burst water pipe, near the city center | Photo: by author
Flooded homes in Dar | Photo: Zainul Mzinge
Land Rover in a very large hole | Photo: @No1YouthChannel on Twitter
Messy traffic and stranded passengers | Photo: Zainul Mzinge