Water, essential to all life, plays a particularly important role in the lives of Tanzanians living near Mbarali River, part of the larger Rufiji River basin in southern Tanzania.
Here, farmers use water from the river to irrigate their crops. Cattle herders guide their animals to its banks to drink and graze. Fishers make a living catching fish from its waters. Still others use it as a place to wash laundry or quench their thirst.
Yet all of these different demands on the river come at a price.
“I have a long memory when it comes to this river,” reminisced Alley Mkweta, a longtime resident and local Water Use Association representative. “This used not to be the only river; we used to have several small tributaries, which now only flow during the wet season.
“I won’t believe anyone who says that this river will never run dry,” he declared, looking around at a gathering of his fellow Water Use Association representatives. “I’ve seen the river drying up too many times before.”
Indeed, water scarcity has become a pressing problem in the Rufiji basin, raising tensions among the many different people clamouring for access to both its waters and surrounding land. Activities upstream—such as livestock grazing, farming in wetlands or too close to river banks, small-scale irrigation, disposing of waste in the river, and more—have changed the quantity, quality and timing of the river’s flow patterns.