Ulugur mountains
Forests are critical to maintaining headwater resources but are increasingly being converted to subsistence agriculture production, such as seen in this boundary photo in the Uluguru Mountains at the headwaters of the Ruvu River.

Vulnerability Mapping in Two Tanzanian Water Basins to Improve Water Resources Management

By Leif Kindberg, John Whiting

Complex relationships between the climate, population growth, land cover change, and other interactions make decisions on land use planning, water permitting, and donor investments in natural resources management challenging. Decision-making on how and where to make investments is improving in Tanzania due to development partners becoming more proficient in using sophisticated environmental analysis tools such as composite index mapping.

The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji River Basins cover 30 percent of Tanzania’s land area. These economically important watersheds include 50 percent of the country’s hydropower and many fishing, forestry, tea, and sugar industries and livelihoods. Both environmentally significant basins support the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of four national parks, including the Selous Game Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa RAMSAR site. More than 7 million people live within these two basins, and the population is rapidly growing. Once covered by forests and grasslands, today much of the area is dominated by subsistence agriculture production. Small changes in precipitation and temperature, deforestation, and monoculture cropping lead to big changes in downstream water security and livelihoods. So, what can development partners do to support local governments with few resources to better manage watersheds? We have found that participatory consultation-based and data-driven approaches have enabled a range of partners to make effective development decisions and investments. 


Kilombero River
The Kilombero River is a major contributor of flow in the Rufiji River Basin, supporting local fishermen, agriculture dominated by rice and sugar cane, and the ecosystems of the Selous Game Reserve.

Improving the Science of Decision Making

To understand these basins and their vulnerabilities to changes in the climate, USAID/Tanzania’s Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI), in collaboration with Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and its SERVIR Eastern & Southern Africa program worked with river basin managers, climatologists, and local government officials to analyze 14 climatological, agriculture, environmental and social data sets.   

We used a composite indices approach to determine overall vulnerability and the relative importance of individual indicators, such as rainfall variability and land use. The process and mapped outputs showing differential vulnerability allow development partners and the local government to understand drivers of vulnerability and ultimately make decisions on how and what can be done to plan development assistance and make investments that improve water security and resilience to climate change. 

Applying Evidence-based Decision Making in Water Resources Management

Data accessibility and quality is improving in Tanzanian and across East Africa. Part of the solution is training and supporting decision makers to analyze their own data using proven spatial approaches that are only recently becoming accessible. Charles Mengo, a former Rufiji Basin Environmental Engineer, says “making Basin staff part of the core team to develop climate change vulnerability index maps was the best approach in ensuring not only transfer of knowledge and ownership, but also sustainability.” These improved analysis approaches, which can be used as a framework for dialogue with diverse partners, are critically needed in order to identify how and where to spend limited financial resources effectively to achieve resilience in a changing climate. 


The Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji Basins’ climate change vulnerability assessment identified the greatest overall vulnerability in the northeastern area due to high exposure to temperature and rainfall variability, and greater sensitivity associated with

As discussed in this video on water resources management, local government authorities, water resource managers and others in the natural resources management, agriculture, and private sectors are improving management by using data and information like composite indices. By working at the basin and local government levels, WARIDI is facilitating coordination among decision makers to identify community interventions that enhance resilience to climate change. In three vulnerable villages with weak land tenure, District Land Offices have developed land use plans and issued almost two thousand Customary Community Rights of Occupancy (CCRO). Land use plans and CCROs strengthen land tenure, protecting watersheds through empowering households and local governments to make long-term decisions in land management and ultimately improve water security in these two critically important water basins.

WARIDI will continue to work within the Rufiji and Wami-Ruvu Basins through 2021 to improve sustainable natural resources management.

This blog was produced with support from USAID through USAID/Tanzania WARIDI.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Change, Climate Science, Conflict and Governance, Development, Sustainable Land Management, Land Use, Vulnerability Assessment, Partnership, Resilience, Self-Reliance, Sustainable Landscapes, Training, Water and Sanitation

Leif Kindberg

Leif Kindberg is the Deputy Chief of Party on the USAID/Tanzania WARIDI Activity that is supporting the Government of Tanzania to improve management of water resources, sanitation goals, create livelihoods in water and sanitation services, and promote resilient communities in the face of a changing climate. Leif manages the operations team on WARIDI provides technical assistance on integrated water resources management and resilience to climate change. He lives with his family in Morogoro, Tanzania. 

John Whiting

John Whiting was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving with WARIDI to support sustainable development through alternative agriculture and climate change resilience trainings and data representation. John is currently a geologist focusing on watershed processes with the U.S. Forest Service.

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