Families living in Ifakara in the Kilombero valley are among the poorest in Tanzania. Most are subsistence farmers, growing crops like maize and rice for their daily needs and to sell at the market.
Sadly, their activities are putting Kilombero in danger. Farming, grazing animals at the water’s edge and activities like brick making for building homes are taking their toll on the wetlands, eroding the soil and destroying the riverbanks.
Flooding is becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Kilombero. It destroys homes and crops, putting families’ already precarious existence at even greater risk. Children are particularly vulnerable. Regular flooding means families are unable to grow reliable supplies of nutritious food for their children, keep them in school and ensure they live in a safe environment.
To respond to the threat of flooding in Kilombero valley, Plan has started a Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change programme. The initiative aims to build communities’ resilience to natural disasters like flooding by making sure children and families have the knowledge and skills to reduce the impact of disasters on their homes and villages.
The programme is part of Plan’s wider work with partners to improve the way the Tanzanian government, authorities and wider population manage the effects of climate change and natural disasters. It is an increasingly vital area of work in a country where agriculture accounts for a large part of the economy and its citizens’ welfare.
Arafa is 12 years old and a pupil at Mapinduzi Primary School in Kilombero valley. She is also a member of her school’s Disaster Risk Reduction Club. Plan has supported community volunteers trained in disaster management to teach children like Arafa how to protect the wetlands of Kilombero and reduce the risk of flood destruction.
Children from primary and secondary schools were taken on a tour of their local wetland area to learn more about the natural environment, how it is being degraded and how this affects their communities.
The volunteers then showed the children, their families and communities how to plant trees along the riverbanks. These will help to stop soil erosion, strengthen the banks and prevent flooding.
Communities were also trained in recognising the early warning signs of a potential flood, like changes in the river level, for example, so they can take steps to prepare for an emergency and minimise the damage to their villages and crops. “We learned a lot about disaster and how tree planting helps in managing climate change,” explains Arafa.
To reinforce the message, the local radio station, Pambazuko FM, Broadcast programmes about the climate and reducing the risks of disasters. These helped to raise awareness of the issue and prompted local discussion about the best measures to adopt.
Preserving the future
Then the really hard work began. All those who took part in the training rallied the rest of the community to plant trees along a three-mile stretch of river. The exercise was led by a group of community volunteers.
So far, around 600 trees have been planted, a small beginning but a start, nonetheless. Villagers like Hasa understand exactly what they need to achieve and how children must be at the heart of their efforts.
“Training the young generation on tree environmental conservation will preserve the environment and hence reduce the risk of disaster,” says Hasa.
For children in Kilombero, the training comes not a moment too soon. Actions they take now will safeguard the valley, and its farming for generations to come.