Lake Rukwa Tanzania (c) Fanny Verkuijlen

Aligning interests for a stable water supply in Tanzania

Header photo: Lake Rukwa Tanzania © Fanny Verkuijlen

In the Rukwa-Katavi landscape in Tanzania, economic developments coupled with unsustainable practices are affecting water quality and availability. This impacts on the water and food provisioning of local communities. By supporting the Strategic Environmental Assessment process regarding the Integrated Water Resources Management and Development Plan, we aim for an environmentally sound plan to ensure a stable water supply. This improves conditions for the Sustainable Development Goals 6, 12 and 15.


The Rukwa-Katavi landscape in the south-west of Tanzania is home to over 1.5 million people. The area is rich in wildlife and biodiversity, containing Miombo woodlands, the Katavi National Park, Lake Rukwa and part of Lake Tanganyika.

Over the last few years, the landscape has experienced rapid changes due to large investment schemes that are promoting economic and infrastructural development. Large areas of forest are being cleared for agriculture. Major roads are being built and power lines are in the planning. Coal mining is scheduled to begin and oil exploration is underway in Lake Tanganyika. Licenses for helium extraction have been issued for Lake Rukwa.

Poor land use planning and illegal activities have resulted in further environmental degradation of the landscape. Unsustainable farming practices, such as slash and burn activities, charcoal production and illegal logging are destroying forests and important wildlife habitats. Illegal cultivation in buffer zones on river banks has led to the siltation of rivers and the shallow Lake Rukwa. At the same time, irresponsible use of pesticides for agriculture and mercury for artisanal gold mining are polluting the Katuma River. This pollution, coupled with illegal fishing in the lakes, is threatening fish stocks.

A Vulnerability Assessment by the Lake Rukwa Basin Water Board (2015) shows that climate change projections predict an increase in temperature of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in 2040. Rainfall patterns will become more variable which can result in more prolonged droughts. Water resources are therefore even more under pressure and water availability will reduce. This will affect the livelihoods, food and water security of local communities.


To protect the freshwater ecosystem of the Lake Rukwa river basin from further siltation and pollution, an environmentally sound water resource management plan is needed to align the various land use claims. The authorities have commissioned a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to ensure environmental aspects of the Integrated Water Resources Management and Development Plan (IWRMD) are taken sufficiently into account.

One of the key features of the SEA is that it is using a consultative and participatory process, where stakeholders and potentially affected groups need to be identified and meaningfully consulted to help define the analysis and inform the findings and recommendations of the SEA.

In strategic partnership with WWF NL and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IUCN NL supports the active participation of local civil society organisations (CSOs), such as Rukwa Sustainable Development Society (RUDESO), Rukwa Environmental Management Society (REMSO) and the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT), in the SEA process. They take part in the design and implementation of the SEA process to ensure that communities in the river basin are adequately informed about issues in the landscape, so they can play an active role in decision-making processes.


By supporting the process of the SEA for the Integrated Water Resources Management and Development Plan for the river basin of Lake Rukwa, we aim to improve conditions for the following Sustainable Development Goals:

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

To achieve sanitation and access to safe drinking water for all by 2030, increased investment in management of freshwater ecosystems is needed. Through an environmentally sound water resource management plan, the freshwater ecosystem of the Lake Rukwa river basin will be protected from further siltation and pollution. As part of the SEA, participation from local communities is key to ensure the implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels.

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG 12 promotes responsible consumption and production through the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. The SEA process in the Lake Rukwa river basin will assess the limits to the water resource for agricultural production to safeguard the health of the freshwater ecosystem.

SDG 15: Life on Land 

SDG 15 safeguards all life on land. Deforestation in the Lake Rukwa river basin is deteriorating the water quality in the river and lake. Through the process of the SEA in the basin, the sustainable management of inland freshwater ecosystems, in particular forests and wetlands, needs to be included in an integrated water resource management plan.

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Mark van der Wal
Senior Expert Ecosystems & Extractives