Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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CSI info 7

Revocatus Makaranga, ‘Mtanzania’ Newspaper, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Efforts to curb environmental degradation have been stepped up in recent years because of the generally fast deterioration of the environment at large. This is mostly due to the human activities, which are surpassing their bounds day and night. It must be pointed out however that, because of the fast growing exploitation of the environment, man has been forced to revisit his activities, albeit the need for natural resources is practically on a daily upsurge. And by revisiting we actually mean trying to strike a balance between man’s daily needs from nature and the degradation of the environment so as not to deny the coming generations their right to nature.

The danger lingering over our heads is that of finding an inhabitable world as a result of uncalculated exploitation of the environment. Since the days of Charles Darwin, man has seen this danger. It is because of this fact that we are today forced to wage campaigns for the preservation of nature and rational exploitation of the environment. This is actually a call to mankind to maintain ecological harmony as a precondition for life on earth.

Environmental degradation or rather ecological disharmony has become such a serious problem that it is no longer possible to expect positive results without the participation of society as a whole. For any quantifiable results to be registered in the struggle to curb or rather reverse the situation, it should be borne in mind that no government in isolation, however rich and powerful it might be, can succeed without involving the whole of society from the grass-roots up. Governments and experts can help in systemizing the reversal process but community participation is probably the only way to see to it that friendship between man and the environment is maintained.

Environmental degradation is a widespread phenomenon. But, for the purpose of this paper, I will confine myself to degradation of the coastline. For many years, people inhabiting the coastline, not only in Tanzania, but I presume all over the world, and especially those in developing societies, have been dependent on natural resources from the sea and the shore. Their dependence can easily be verified by studying their life style, that is, their shelter, food, recreation etc. It is not surprising therefore that what we have now been witnessing practically all along the coastline is ecological disharmony. On the one hand this disharmony can be attributed to a drastic change in climatic conditions (quite natural and probably beyond man’s control), but on the other hand we are also witnessing serious environmental degradation due to mankind’s unreasonable exploitation of nature along the coastline. Coastal erosion, extinction of rare but ecologically very important natural vegetation and pollution of the coastline and subsequently of the sea are but a few of the after-effects of man’s unfriendly relationship with the environment. The overall result is nothing less than desertification of the coast lines.

Human activities also adversely affect coastal areas due to over-exploitation of living resources, especially fish, and coastal development, for the construction of tourist hotels without taking into consideration ecosystem services. These give short-term economic gains, which often times do not take into consideration long-term effects on the environment. In other words most of our projects along the coastline are executed without a proper cost-benefit analysis on the side of the environment in the longrun.

That is why communication and education are important in this respect in helping to raise the awareness of the people and make them understand the issues and problems involved. Education and communication are also important in efforts to develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills required for participation in sustainable development of coastal regions. In other words, people should be enabled to make decisions. They should be helped to do so only after proper cost-benefit analysis as regards the pluses and minuses of the pending activity. As a rule people tend to look at immediate economic gains (most of which are short-term); they should be armed with tools to enable them to look critically at the environment and forecast the effects of a project, adverse or otherwise, before implementation.

In that respect, information, through education in all its forms, is informal and formal and at all levels is one of the basic prerequisites for achieving the needed levels of consciousness to help people in decision making. It is imperative to point out here that the intention is not to create a bank-client relationship but to create a thinking person, one of dialogue, of communication. That is why this information has to be communicated by all means, for example, inter-personal discussions, theatre, newspapers, radio and television, but the bottom line should be to arm the consumer with tools of analysis to help him/her in the cost-benefit analysis whenever and wherever the question of environmental exploitation arises.


In Tanzania, environmental degradation of coastal areas is a serious problem, which has escalated in the last 10 years, such that it has now given rise to serious concern. Tanzania’s coastline stretches 800 km along the Indian Ocean, which like other developing countries is experiencing rapid change.

The following examples show the dimension of the problem.

Dar es Salaam used to have very clean and attractive beaches as well as commendable tourist beach hotels. But some, if not most of them, are now in danger of falling down because of coastline erosion.

Waves reach the beaches at a terrific speed and as a result erosion is inevitable. This has become possible because of, among other reasons, dynamite fishing, which has destroyed the coral reefs which used to buffer the hotels. Thus, dynamite fishing has not only destroyed life in the sea, but has given the sea a free ticket to destroy the beaches.

The Hotel Africana was swallowed by the waters a few years ago, others which might also face extinction in the coming few years include Bahari Beach Hotel, Kunduchi Beach Hotel, Silver Sands Hotel and White Sands Hotel, which was built just a few years back.

In efforts to fight erosion, hotel owners have constructed stone and concrete barriers on beaches, but such measures have not stopped the erosion. Apart from that, the construction of these structures has made these beaches ugly and unsuitable for beach-goers including tourists.

So it is just a matter of years before these hotels will be rendered useless like their predecessor, Hotel Africana.

Another beach hotel has just been stopped in its tracks. This one was being constructed along the Oysterbay. The point about this project is that the hotel, being built by a big businessman in Dar es Salaam is within 60 metres of the shore. This is contrary to the law on such projects. The law says that a hotel should be built at a distance of more that 60 metres from the shore. This project was approved during the former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi’s tenure in office. This raised a lot of eyebrows in the country. The speed at which it was being built also raised a lot of questions.

However, during the campaigns for the general election in 1995, one of the presidential candidates promised to deal with the issue as one of his priorities, if he won. Well, he won and a few months later he said the project owner followed the right procedures to acquire the plot so he did not see the logic in stopping the project. However, a presidential commission on corruption maintained that the plot might have been allocated through corrupt means. This was partly because the law was in force when the allocation was made after it was turned down several times before.

The project owners, Indian Ocean Hotels Ltd., stopped constructing the hotel more than a year ago. There are reports that the government has ordered the demolition of the hotel and offered to compensate the developers for the costs incurred so far. It is said that the owners were issued with a permanent restraining order by the City Commission two years ago and consequently suspended work.


A foreign investor proposes to start prawn farming in the delta of the Rufiji River, which is the largest river in Tanzania. The project will involve the construction of ponds covering an area of 15,000 ha. This project, has generated a lot of controversy, both in terms of the number of the villagers who would be displaced and the long-term effects of environmental degradation to the area.

Some people, opposed to the project, went to the extent of likening it to the tragedy which has befallen the Ogoni people in Nigeria, whose land has been extensively degraded by activities of the multi-national oil companies.

The Rufiji Delta people themselves are also divided on the issue. There are those who support the project, citing its economic benefits (including employment), and those who oppose it.

Those in opposition are supported by a myriad of environmentalists including vocal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Environmental Journalists Organization of Tanzania (JET), the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI) and the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) as well as the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC), which conducted an environment impact assessment and advised the government against the project.

Despite all the opposition, the government approved the project. Although the project has yet to start, the people of Rufiji have gone to court to protest it.

Let me at this juncture point out the very commendable job done by the media in Tanzania in creating awareness and generating debate on the Indian Ocean Hotel saga and the Rufiji prawns project, which is yet to take off. It was through the media that people became aware of the violation of their right to access the beach and the law which prohibits putting up permanent structures on public beaches. The people of Rufiji came to know of the prawns project after the media had intercepted some documents regarding the project and immediately made it public knowledge. Though the government has approved the project, most Rufijians are not for it.


Education and communication on environmental degradation should be aimed at enabling one to come to terms with the fact that, while it is true that nature should be exploited for man’s survival, that exploitation should not be total, or destructive. That man should not get rich at the expense of nature or by destroying the environment, as this in the long run might lead to mankind’s extinction!

Now, the big question is: Who will be responsible for steering this education and communication? In answering this question there are different schools of thought.

There are those who believe that this should be spearheaded by the government and NGOs should play a supportive role. The government should take leadership of the campaign where its input is required. At the moment the environmental portfolio in Tanzania is held by the Vice President’s office.

But there are those who think that our governments are not environment sensitive and due to corrupt tendencies which have been registered and are still being registered there is no way politicians (who are in power) are going to arm the people with weapons they know will in the end be used against them. Whence then the education? It is recommended that the lead should be taken by non-governmental bodies such as NGOs, media organizations, friends of the environment groups all over the country etc.

But all told, it is very important that we do not sideline the role of the government. This is because some decisions need the hand of the government for implementation. Take the example of dynamite fishing in Tanzania. This is such a serious problem that without the interference of the government the possibility of solving it through common sense and public education alone is negligible. It is a problem which has bedeviled our coastline for some years and contributed greatly to the current fast beach erosion. Vast resources are needed in order to fight this bad practice by unscrupulous fishermen. Apart from education on the effects of dynamite fishing, the use of force is also important to make those who undertake dynamite fishing realize the mistakes they make. This involves taking legal action against those caught red-handed.

In Tanzania the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC), a quasi governmental organization is charged with overseeing NGOs that play a big role in the fight against coastal environmental degradation. The NEMC is just a f ew years old but it is doing a good job in creating awareness on environmental matters through the media, for example, through radio programmes. The Council has a programme, which is aired through Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD) once a week.

Through the NEMC, Tanzania is also a participant in an Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) programme, having established its national ICM programme in 1995 as a tool for achieving sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. ICM programmes are currently being put into practice in Tanga, Kunduchi, Mafia and Mtwara/Lindi. The ICM programme entails involving the populace so that it understands the problems of environmental degradation and participates in fighting the problem.

The NGOs on the other hand are also doing a good job in this respect. It is the NGOs, for instance, which enabled the people of Rufiji River Delta to go to court to protest against the prawns project. This was done through a concerted campaign, whereby some officials from those NGOs traveled to Rufiji to educate the people on the effects of the project. Seminars and workshops were also conducted for this purpose.


In as much as rapid changes in coastal areas for financial gains is a process which cannot be reversed, what is needed are concerted efforts to make sure there is no total destruction of those areas. The populace should be made to understand that over-exploitation of natural resources would boomerang on humanity in the long run. The NGOs should spearhead the campaign against coastal environment degradation.

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