Prosper Kwigize and Hadija Jumanne, Kagera- Tanzania
Despite having contributed significantly to the lives of Africans, indigenous knowledge, traditions, and norms are slowly fading away, especially after being disrupted by the formal education systems.
According to traditional African folktales, in the centuries before the advent of scientific guidelines and western civilizations, indigenous knowledge, norms, and traditions had well-founded and robust principles that enabled water sources and forest reserves to be protected by communities.
In Tanzania, one of the regions still relying on indigenous knowledge, traditions, and norms to conserve water resources is the Karagwe district, found in the Kagera Basin, which is paying.
“We have our traditional elders, and they are united. When they meet with the youth, they provide them with indigenous knowledge regarding the conservation of water resources and the environment. Some of our water sources are present today because our elders have preserved them,” narrates Mwalimu Julieth Binyura, the Karagwe District Commissioner.
These traditional leaders come from the Nyambo indigenous tribe. Dr. Godfrey Aligawesa is one of the community leaders of this tribe. He says his tribe has specific customs and norms that prevent environmental degradation, and these customs spell out punishments for anyone found to be destroying water sources.
“For example, they prohibit children from playing in water bodies, and if caught, one of the punishments is between two to ten strokes at the buttocks depending on how old they are,” explains Dr. Aligawesa. He adds that community members are prohibited from cultivating near water sources, cutting down trees, and washing clothes or dishes in springs, lakes, or rivers.
According to the water and environment experts in the Kagera region, climate change has led to irregular rainfall patterns, affecting agriculture in the area. This leads to encroachment on water catchment areas, but leaders in the area are scaling up community sensitization on the importance of and how to protect water sources.
“We are all aware that agriculture involves deforestation and the removal of natural vegetation in areas around water sources, but we are ensuring that people farm as per the existing water management system, “emphasizes Mwalimu Binyura.
“I urge the people to continue to conserve water sources as guided by our elders, traditional leaders, and experts because if we preserve our environment, we will continue to get enough clean water,” adds Mwalimu Binyura.
Most of the Karagwe region residents use surface and groundwater simultaneously. They fetch water from shallow wells, streams, rivers, lakes, and also springs, and boreholes.
Engineer Simon Ndyamkama, the Rural Water and Sanitation Authority Manager for the water-rich Ngara district, which is also part of the Kagera Basin, highlights the need to engage the community through various ways, including traditional leaders, bylaws, and central government laws to protect and save water resources, including underground aquifers.
Andrew Athanasio, the acting Head of the Environment Department of Ngara District Council, agrees with Engineer Ndyamkama. He says community members’ involvement, knowledge, norms, and tradition in forest conservation have been vital in replanting trees.
“Geographically, our district is mountainous, and almost every mountain has a water source below. We are now conserving natural vegetation, and our citizens have been told to ensure that they preserve the environment to conserve underground aquifers,” adds Athanasio.
Kagera Region falls under the 5,778 square-kilometer Kagera aquifer that extends to parts of southwestern Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.
To support these countries in their efforts towards the sustainable use and management of the Kagera aquifer, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an inter-governmental body, is currently implementing a project aimed at strengthening the knowledge base, capacity, and cross-border institutional mechanisms.
The USD 5.3 million project – ‘Enhancing Conjunctive Management of Surface Water and Groundwater Resources in Selected Transboundary Aquifers, will further build and expand on the understanding of groundwater resources through detailed mapping and assessment of the three aquifer systems.
This is in addition to aiding the national achievements and reporting of water-related Sustainable Development Goals and supporting environmental protection while enhancing the socio-economic development of the Basin’s population.
According to Dr. Maha Abdelrahim, the Project Manager, two other aquifers, namely Mt Elgon aquifer shared between Kenya and Uganda and Gedaref-Adigrat aquifer shared by Ethiopia and Sudan, are also part of the project.
The five-year (2020 – 2025) project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and executed by NBI.
This article was supported by InfoNile with funding from the Nile Basin Initiative.