WWF in Action: Tanzania

"Water is Life"

By Anthony Field, Deputy Head of Press, WWF-UK 

It is the dry season in Tanzania’s highlands when I enter a mud house in the dusty village of Ihahi in the country’s southwest. Here, in the dim of the light, I find a dozen or so people chanting and punching the air with their fists.

I wonder if I’ve stumbled on a political rally. But as I listen closely to what they are saying, I realize it is more a pep rally of sorts, praising the success of their community conservation banks (or COCOBA for short).

“Water is life!” goes the chant. “Let us use it wisely and conserve its sources. COCOBA is our savior, alleviating poverty and improving our environment.” The chanters then settle down to their weekly meeting to discuss community banking and issues that affect life within the water catchment area of the Great Ruaha River.

Tanzania’s Great Ruaha River flows through the Usangu wetlands and the magnificent Ruaha National Park within a river basin that is home to more than three million people. Overuse of water resources, particularly for rice irrigation schemes, coupled with intensive livestock grazing and deforestation, have seen this river dry up each year for longer and longer periods – the record is 111 consecutive days.

After the meeting, in the cool of the hut, I chat with Exavery Mbaya, one of the COCOBA officials, about life in the village and the severe water restrictions.

Exavery made the break from farming to become a tailor, so he understands all too well why these community banks, which were set up with help from WWF, are so important to the future of the community.

“They provide people with access to loans for the first time,” he explains. “It has allowed me to expand my business and send my two children to secondary school.”

“Before the community banks, if the crops failed here, the need for money would drive people to damage their environment,” he says. “Today, the bank members act like environmental ambassadors, spreading the word to people beyond the COCOBAs about water management and other environmental matters.”

WWF is working with the local communities, creating and training water users associations to manage the river better. These associations are spreading across the whole catchment area, bringing communities together to offer training on fair distribution and efficient water use.

Photo © Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF-UK