Diminishing water resources are increasingly becoming a proximate cause of conflict in the regions of the world hardest-hit by climate change. The East African country of Tanzania is grappling with clashes between farmers and cattle herders, who have often killed each other in their pursuit of grazing land and dwindling water resources.
Amid rising population growth and the worsening impacts of climate change, the country’s natural resources have come under increasing strain, thus putting huge pressure on land, forests and water sources.
From Arusha in the north to Kilindi in the east, and to Iringa in the south, deadly clashes have raged unabated as armed rival groups jostle for the declining water resources.
The changing weather patterns being experienced across East Africa have made water harder to find in many parts of the country, forcing cattle herders to drive hundreds of their animals to roam freely on farmland, even encroaching on wildlife sanctuaries in their desperate search for animal feed and water, resulting in conflicts with farmers and fierce wild animals.
Last week, six people were reportedly killed in the Kibirashi village of the Kilindi district in the Tanga region, as herders armed with machetes, axes, swords and guns clashed with farmers in a dispute highlighting a huge scramble for resources.
Simon Sirro, Tanzania’s inspector-general of police, said 20 people have been arrested and are being interrogated in connection with the shocking incident, which has instilled fear in the community.
"This is a very sad incident. It saddens me to see that people still take law into their own hands. Everyone involved will be hunted down and severely punished in accordance with the law," Sirro said.
The tragic incident in Kilindi has rekindled grim memories of the worst clash involving farmers and cattle herders, in which 38 people were brutally killed by machete-wielding pastoralists in the eastern Kiteto district.
As hostilities between farmers, pastoralists and wildlife persist, observers fear that the long-term survival of iconic plant and animal species, including elephants, are at risk.
Adam Malima, the Tanga regional commissioner, said the violent encounters among farmers, pastoralists and wildlife have caused the loss of lives, property and the general disruption of livelihoods.
"The root cause of this problem is drought. We will try to sit down with both groups to discuss the best way to defuse the tensions," Malima told Anadolu Agency (AA).
However, local experts say resource-based conflicts in the country are fueled by ethnic animosity or poor land governance causing financial losses, destruction of livelihoods and threats to food security, health and safety.
Raymond Mwaikenda, an independent land rights researcher, said the conflicts over resources are often brought about by the government's poor decisions and actions.
Many opposing groups fighting over water, he claimed, have limited awareness and knowledge of land governance issues since they are frequently left out of policy formation.
"When the state allots property to an investor to develop commercial farming, it often ignores the interests of the local people," he noted.
In places where disputes over water are rife, rival groups often lack a land-use plan to guide their decisions on how to best utilize available resources, Mwaikenda said.
"The dispute over water and resources are likely to persist due to widespread corruption and a weak governance system," he believed.
Analysts argue that as the world becomes more populous, violent confrontations between farmers, pastoralists and wildlife are likely to continue, though effective and well-planned approaches can help minimize them.
"To reduce these conflicts, we need to examine relationships and direct interactions between people and wildlife to improve our coexistence," Mwaikenda suggested.
According to Mwaikenda, experts need to adopt approaches that identify and address the deeper, underlying causes of conflict, while also developing mechanisms and specific solutions that involve affected communities.
Yannick Ndoinyo, the director of the Traditional Ecosystems Survival Tanzania – a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to empower Indigenous and local communities to secure, plan, manage and utilize land resources – said recurring conflicts between farmers and pastoralists are caused by preferential treatment one side receives from the government and negative societal perceptions of pastoralism.
"Pastoralism is generally nomadic and a lifestyle of a people, however, the government sees pastoralists as invaders and troublemakers," he told AA.
As traditional grazing land rapidly diminishes due to persistent drought, nomadic pastoralists have been forced to walk long distances searching for water and greener pastures in sprawling wetlands and river valleys, damaging crops in the process.
Although farmers and pastoralists have frequently clashed in some regions of Tanzania, there appears to be a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel, as rival groups in places like Iringa have put an end to deadly hostility with a deceptively simple solution – talking to each other.
In the Pawaga division in the southern highlands, rival groups have formed a loose coalition to iron out their differences.
"Farmers and pastoralists agreed to use water resources and feed animals in a manner that does not affect one another," said Mwaikenda.
Pawaga division, known for its plains and valleys that had become the epicenter of disputes between pastoralists, farmers and wildlife conservationists, is now a beacon of hope as rival groups frequently meet to vent their frustration and forge the way forward, resulting in a significant drop in violent clashes.