January 11, 2006

Water shortage hits Zanzibar / Government pardons and rehires medics

Authorities in Tanzania's semiautonomous island of Zanzibar have prohibited indefinitely the unnecessary use of water, in a move to curb an acute scarcity. "We are now facing a shortage of water because of a prolonged drought; gardeners, car washers and manufactures of building bricks must minimise their use of water," Hemed Salim, director of the Zanzibar Water Department, said. According to him, guidelines on the conservative use of water would soon be made public for home and industrial users. Water is already being rationed on Stone Town, the largest urban centre on the island. He said Stone Town's 350.000 residents normally required about 50 million litres of water per day, "but the production is currently very low".

The island's major source of drinking water is from two springs, but it also draws from boreholes and wells. These springs service the island's Urban-West region and Stone Town normally with 14 million litres a day. Now, because of the drought, it provides four million litres a day. Water shortages are frequent but the prevailing drought in East Africa has worsened the situation for the island's 981.754 people. Authorities on mainland Tanzania have also raised concern about the drought, which has raised fears of hunger and electricity rationing. Power load shedding would certainly affect Zanzibar, which receives three-quarters of its supplies from the mainland. The country's five major dams are unable to generate power at optimum levels due to the drop of river water levels that feed into reservoirs.

In the meantime, the Tanzanian government has pardoned and rehired 224 medical personnel it had sacked in November 2005 after they went on strike for better pay and working conditions, according the Health Minister David Mwakyusa. However, the pardon did not extend to 29 others believed to have been the ringleaders of the strike. The doctors' action lasted several weeks, paralysing operations at the Muhimbili National Hospital, the country's largest health facility. According to the minister, the government pardoned the strikers because they apologised in writing to the former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye. "We have also taken into consideration the fact that it costs the nation about 40 million shillings (about U$34,188) to train a single doctor," Mwakyusa, who was once a director of administration at Muhimbili, said. However, he emphasised, from then the government would summarily dismiss any striking medical practitioner. Most of those sacked worked at Muhimbili. A few others were from the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, and had joined in the strike in solidarity with their Muhimbili counterparts. (afp/rts)

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