Dar es Salaam: Underwater and Underreported

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

Relief effort
@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




  1. Katie Mirkovic

    This is just so sad. I wouldn’t have known a thing about this if I hadn’t heard from you. Take care!

  2. African

    This is an unfair world. The western countries only fills us up with their own personal interest news, they don’t care about us, Africans.
    We shouldn’t be caring about them neither.(They don’t even care if we do or don’t care about them)

    • amyloufaust

      Thank you for your comment – I think it’s very disappointing too that news outlets in the West don’t give adequate considerations to disasters like this. I don’t think it’s that people don’t care though – it’s just that when they don’t find out through the media that it makes it difficult to be aware or respond to such a tragedy.

      • I just got back to Finland from Dar and I heard that at least the (state) Finnish Broadcasting Company has covered the floods in tv and online. Something at least, though I agree that the situation and speed of international media has been very disappointing…

    • lisa

      i agree. This is very sad. Nothing was on the news about it here (u.s.). It seems our government doesnt care about other countries troubles unless they have much oil. Then they still dont care about the people, only the goverment selling the oil or leasing the land to drill on. We had very bad floods here last year. Prayers and love, lisa

  3. Bakari Maligwa Mohamed

    …It is a natural phenomenon; however, we were supposed to prepare for the disaster as TMA had alerted the situation about three months prior to the episode. We were seeing flood in the Phillipines yet low lands dwellers in Dar es Salaam maintain the “status quo ante” and continued to stay. The overstay and reluctancy to shift the low lands prone to flooding is the source of Dar es Salaam aftermaths. We need to learn from events but we cannot reverse the past.

    • DadaL

      you can’t possibly blame this on the low land dwellers. They are poor and have little other choice. This is the governments fault for a) not preparing for a situation like this and b) now not reacting appropriately (see the guy on leave!).

  4. Magdalena Apollo Ntandu

    Tanzania need to prepare before and after occurrence of disaster, this is too much people are dying,they lost home and properties. pole watanzania

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  6. Interesting facts about the flooded city-Dar. I hope the country and its leaders find a way forward from this.

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  10. lisa

    the weather and disasters are getting worse all over the world, also. The rains are coming at the wrong time and either too much or not enough. In this case, too much. People live where they live and are poor. No one wants to leave their crops (or whatever their livelyhood is) untended and will wait until the last moment, hoping it won’t happen. It is terrible that the world is changing so fast that when it IS time to go, it is often to late.

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