The Great Ruaha River is disappearing

Written by: Sue Stolberger

The jewel of Tanzania is dying before our eyes, a few rice farmers are being allowed to destroy Tanzania’s largest, priceless asset.

Ruaha River from the air near Msembe on 9 October 2013

Ruaha River from the air near Msembe on 9 October 2013

The Great Ruaha River, which is the life blood of the Ruaha National Park, ceased to flow for the first time in living memory during the dry season of 1993 and this drying-up has continued every year since, with the period of non-flow increasing to several months. In the years coincident with the continuing drying up of the Great Ruaha River various programmes of so-called “improvement” of smallholder irrigated rice schemes were undertaken in the Usangu catchment.

The amount of water entering the catchment area has not changed to any significant degree. What was an obvious correlation between the building of the “improved” rice irrigation schemes and the Ruaha River ceasing to flow was not immediately recognised and measures were not taken at an early stage to test the hypothesis and address the problem. Delay in positive “on the ground” action has served only to exacerbate the problem and make it’s resolution more difficult as huge numbers of migrant people associated with rice farming and cattle herding have come into the area.

Take a look at the habitat that surrounds the so called GREAT Ruaha River. It looks pretty dry doesn’t it? How on earth can we expect tourists to continue to visit this wasteland? How can our wildlife survive? Where do the smallest creatures such as the mongoose go to get water? The elephants will habituate the village areas and cause untold damage.

The below images show the sequence of flow for the Great Ruaha River in 2013

March 22nd near Ibuguziwa

22 March 2013

There was virtually no flow at all during the height of the rainy season, despite good rains the river was dry. 2012/2013 was the lowest wet season flow in history.

June 12 2013

12 June 2013

Historically, March to June is usually the months that the river’s flow is at its highest. With the flow going bank to bank. That never happened this year.

August 9 2013

9 August 2013

The river continued to flow in a limited way until the 1st of October. This is when the rice farmers begin flooding their paddies for seedlings, it is extraordinary that they are allowed to do this at the height of the dry season!

7 October 2013

7 October 2013

The river is now not flowing, and forms small pools along its course. The pelicans, marabou storks and other species swarm around these ever shrinking pools gorging on live and dead fish. As a result, the water becomes increasingly unpalatable and putrid.

The below images give a shocking reminder into how the river should look.

7 March 2007

7 March 2007

The river is flowing from bank to bank. March is generally when the river flow is at its highest.

18 March 2013

18 March 2013

At the same time this year the river was a mere trickle. You can see how drastic the contrast from 2007 flow is to this years highest flow!

24 March 2007

24 March 2007

It is without doubt catastrophic. How can Ruaha survive? If this situation continues the Ruaha National Park will die.

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