Who remembers El Nino of 1997? In that year, it really lived up to its name of the Christ Child – El Nino means the boy in Spanish–, as it was around Christmas that Tanzania was inundated with serious floods.
I still remember pictures of train passengers walking long distances along the railway line as it was impossible to continue their journey, and both sides were flooded.
This was just one example of widespread flooding, which even overloaded dams such as Mtera. People were left homeless, and large portions of infrastructure were badly damaged. In the long run, agriculture was also affected as crops were washed away, and water-borne diseases and malaria flourished.
I also remember because I and others expressed concern that the national response was inadequate. It was Christmas time that year and Eid el Fitr was also approaching. Therefore, religious leaders seemed more concerned with religious festivals than the crisis facing large population sectors surrounded by floods.
Political leaders had also travelled to their home areas to celebrate the holiday season. However, due to the outcry, at least one senior politician was forced to return, and he shouted angrily on television about irresponsible journalism of the worst kind.
“The President was not on holiday,” he said. “He only went to his home village, he had not left the country.”
Of course, it was necessary to point out that, by that definition of holiday, most Tanzanians had never had a holiday at all.
I remember all this now because the Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) has forecasted above-average to average rainfall for the upcoming October to December season, attributing the weather pattern to the El-Nino rains.
TMA’s Acting Director General, Dr Ladislaus Chang’a, has urged the National Disaster Management Department to coordinate plans to help reduce the damages that might occur.
In its statement, TMA warned against potential waterlogging and flooding that might cause damage to key infrastructures and loss of life and property.
It has insisted on the need for local authorities to enhance drainage systems, educate communities about precautions to take and strengthen village and district-level disaster committees.
Since TMA issued that warning on August 24, 2023, I have not heard or seen any response from relevant authorities which shows any form of preparedness. I tried to raise the alarm on X, formerly Twitter, and the social network users’ reactions forced me to comment on this issue in this space.
Apart from the fact that many supported the need to hear more about preparations to face this threat to people’s lives and livelihoods and the national economy, I was amazed and amused by many of the reactions, which made me wonder whether we are serious enough in preparing for disasters.
I can sum up the reactions under three categories that I find very disturbing: disbelief, denial and derision: disbelief, denial and derision.
Many discussion participants refused to believe the TMA’s weather forecast. Of course, weather predictions are notoriously hard to make accurately, especially one-off events such as storms, hurricanes, etc., as they can easily change direction.
This has led people to wish to disregard such a warning on the basis that previous warnings proved to be inaccurate.
However, there is a difference between a one-off weather event and a weather system that might have a prolonged impact. Disaster preparedness ensures the country can mitigate its impact if the warning proves accurate.
However, to me, this is connected with a deeper problem: the general distrust of any warning given by the government. I still remember the reaction of people to the warning by the government that DECI was a pyramid scheme.
Instead of people thanking the government for the warning, they actually rushed in greater numbers to join the scheme, claiming that the government did not want them to get rich. Whence comes this endemic distrust of government?
Denial is, of course, connected to disbelief, but paradoxically, it is also connected to belief, two conflicting beliefs.
Firstly, there is the ‘it can’t happen here’ syndrome. We are such a God-fearing, God-loving country – despite our corruption, sexual abuse, etc. – that God would not allow disasters to happen here. There’s nothing that a few days of extra prayer will not prevent.
Well, I am sure that God does love our country, but it seems we are much too ready to overburden him with that love.
When a weather system threatens a large part of the world, I am not quite sure how God is expected to exempt us, and don’t come to me with that, ‘Well, didn’t he exempt us from the COVID-19 pandemic?’ That is a whole other story.
Secondly and conversely, there is the negative belief that if God wishes to cause a disaster, we can do nothing to stop it. We just have to grin and bear it – if we are alive to grin, that is! They point even to the two recent disasters in Morocco and Libya.
By comparison, for example, Japan is susceptible to frequent earthquakes, but few buildings collapse because of strict building regulations, while in Turkey, there was increased loss of life as many buildings were not compliant with building regulations, either because they were built before the regulations or because of corruption.
However, in Libya, the massive loss of life has been caused by the collapse of two dams due to heavy rains. Now, maybe we could not have predicted how heavy the rains were, although they affected other areas as well.
READ MORE: Drought Kills 92,000 Livestock in Simanjiro
And we are still waiting to know why the dams could not sustain the increased water pressure while others did, but many have already started pointing fingers at poor maintenance linked to endemic conflict in the area after the Western-promoted removal of Muammar Gaddafi.
In which case, that disaster was preventable; it was man-made. Do we really wish to depend on prayer –positive– or fatalism– negative – rather than preparing ourselves?
Derision is, of course, connected also to disbelief. Since the warning given by TMA, pronouncements by our ruling politicians seem to be more concerned with kura, or votes, preparedness than disaster preparedness.
We have seen the police asking for huge amounts of money to prepare for the elections and politicians talking about how they will score important goals in 2024 and 2025, but we have not heard them allocating money for El Nino preparedness.
Perhaps it has been allocated, but is it on the priority list? Hence, the general derision in the discussion. El Kura is more important than El Nino. Hopefully, our kura-fixated politicos will hear and respond to that derision positively by showing in word and deed they care and prepare.
In the meantime, let’s all go and pray that God will deliver us once more!
Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.