DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - “Free education but nowhere to sleep!” reads a poster scrawled in Swahili in Dar es Salaam’s Jangwani slum, summing up the plight of hundreds of residents forcibly evicted from flood-prone areas of the Tanzanian capital.
Ever since his mother’s house was pulled down some three weeks ago, Abdallah Mkwama and his family have been squatting in a makeshift shack made of wooden planks and loosely fixed iron sheets.
“It feels so bad sleeping outside, mosquitoes bite me, but we don’t have the means to go anywhere else,” he said.
Despite the tough living conditions, seven-year-old Mkwama, who enrolled for free primary education this year, does not want miss lessons.
Every day, he wakes up early to fold and store his dusty mattress so that no one steals it and starts getting ready for school.
The pupil at Hananasif Primary School carefully uses water his mother has stored in discarded plastic bottles to brush his teeth.
“My mother usually prepares breakfast for us, but sometimes she doesn’t have the money to buy sugar,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mkwama, his older sister and parents are among hundreds of Dar es Salaam residents whose homes were reduced to rubble by the demolition of about 700 houses across the sprawling Msimbazi river flood plain.
Broken bricks and pieces of wood are scattered everywhere. A damaged pit latrine gives off an unbearable stench. Children play hide-and-seek on a pile of debris nearby, seemingly oblivious to what has happened.
“I am very worried for my children’s health since we don’t have running water and a toilet,” said Mkwama’s mother, Stamily Samata.
The demolition exercise, which targets more than 8,000 houses built contrary to the city’s 1970s masterplan, has been temporarily halted after some residents rushed to the court to spare their houses from being torn down.
Last rainy season, a spate of unusually heavy downpours pounded Dar es Salaam, leaving dozens dead and wreaking havoc with the fragile city’s infrastructure.
The Tanzanian government has for many years tried to convince poor families to move out of flood-prone areas, but they have always resisted. Few have money to buy plots elsewhere, and the Msimbazi plain is close to the city center.
The government estimates that more than 70 percent of Dar es Salaam’s five million people live in informal, unplanned settlements that often lack basic sanitation.
“I don’t understand why the government has decided to punish us now even though we have lived here for so long,” said Amina Masound, whose house in the Mkwajuni area was knocked down. “I cannot imagine what our lives will be like when the rainy season comes.”
Saidi Meck Sadiki, Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, said the eviction exercise was in accordance with the country’s environmental law which prohibits human activity on wetlands.
“We have repeatedly warned them to vacate for their own safety but none of them heeded our call,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While the government maintains that the destroyed homes were built illegally, some residents claim to possess valid title deeds.
One of the fastest growing cities in Africa, Dar es Salaam faces enormous pressure from the growing number of migrants from rural areas. Rapid population growth is causing overcrowding, pollution, food shortages and insufficient water supplies.
According to an “Economics of Climate Change Study” in 2011, Dar es Salaam’s population will surge to over 10 million people by 2040, making it a megacity. It shows that about 140,000 people live in areas vulnerable to flooding.
“Public authorities have the duty to plan and monitor how urban development is evolving, unfortunately this job is getting too hard for them,” said Riziki Shemdoe, professor of land and urban planning at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam.
“Planners need to have a broad vision of development, taking into account the need of working classes, and the understanding of the sociology of the poor,” he said.
The government had not made plans for those whose houses they destroyed before the demolition exercise began, saying the residents had defied directives issued by the city authorities.
As a result, many families, like Mkwama’s, are simply squatting on the same land in hastily built shelters.
“We simply don’t have the resources and alternative land to offer these people, they are simply too many,” said Sadiki, the Regional Commissioner. “They should find rental accommodation somewhere else.”
He warned residents who are still squatting on the wetlands to immediately move out.
Human rights campaigners, however, have criticized the government’s move to evict low-income families without making plans for where they would go next.
Yefred Myenzi, a land rights expert working with Haki Ardhi, a land rights campaign group in Dar es Salaam, said the evictions were conducted without a “human face”.
“There should at least be temporary shelter for the victims to avoid humanitarian suffering,” he said.
Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org