Master's student in Geography, University of Paris Nanterre
Nina Puslecki took part in the DIDEM project as an intern for a Master's degree in geography, with a specialization in water management, at the University of Paris Nanterre. As part of the project, she spent 4 months in Tanzania working on the Rufiji delta, and more specifically on the downstream section of the Julius Nyerere dam and its environmental and social impacts. Not only did she study geography and the environment, she also completed a Master's degree in Chemistry in a double degree with the Université Paris Saclay and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) de Paris Saclay, before spending a year in Mauritania on civic service with the Lycée Français Théodore Monod in Nouakchott.
Nina, what prompted you to study regional planning and water management in particular?
During my year of civic service in Mauritania, I realized that I wanted to work in the environment, and more specifically in a field linking the social aspect to the environment. Geography, and in particular land-use planning, was the obvious choice. Current water-related issues also prompted me to opt for a Master's degree specializing in water management. And that year in Mauritania made me realize that I wanted to work in Africa, meeting the local people and working on environmental issues.
Before the dam, no one could cross the Rufiji River on foot, Rufiji, April 2023 @Nina Puslecki
With the water level in the Rufiji River dropping, hippos choose the deepest places to bathe, as do the inhabitants to be able to cross the Rufiji River, 2023 @ Nina Puslecki
Could you tell us a little about your thesis topic and the current issues in the Rufiji delta?
My work in the Rufiji delta consisted in monitoring the development of the Julius Nyerere dam upstream from the delta. The dam was built and then impounded without any consultation with the downstream inhabitants, and I therefore studied the consequences of this impoundment, both on the water level of the Rufiji River and the fishing and farming system, and on the lives of the inhabitants. The research focused on two villages located downstream of the dam, through qualitative semi-directive interviews, which I conducted with the on-site research assistant, Kassim Kindinda.
The results of this internship have shown that the state-built dam has led to a sharp drop in the water level of the Rufiji River, but also of the floodplain lakes normally connected to the river. This has led to a drop in the number of fish available for fishing, and a decline in agricultural yields. Indeed, the inhabitants of these villages depend on flood recession agriculture, such as
rice, to survive. But the dam's impoundment also disrupts all downstream animals: crocodiles and hippos now find themselves in a smaller space, which they have to share with the villagers. The elephants of the Selous reserve come to plunder the crops of the inhabitants of the village closest to the reserve. But it's also in this more touristy village that the economy has developed, thanks to the settlement of dam workers. However, prices have risen, making life more difficult for the other inhabitants. This village had also received information about the dam's construction and impoundment through village meetings, which had not been done for the other villages downstream. Government communication about the dam therefore focused solely on the most touristic village, resulting in a lack of information and a lack of trust in the authorities for the other villages.
What did this Master's internship in Tanzania bring you, and what's next for you after the Master's?
This internship enabled me to evolve, both in human and academic terms, as it intensified my ability to adapt, while extending my social skills, since I had to conduct qualitative interviews in English, in conditions different from those to which I was accustomed. It also enabled me to learn more about water projects, and in particular their environmental and social impacts. This was extremely beneficial for me, as I'll be doing a Volontariat International en Entreprise (VIE) in Côte d'Ivoire from January, for two years, to carry out social and environmental impact studies for power projects.
In the foreground of the photo, you can see the dry rice being cultivated, while in the background, you can see the Rufiji River, which is supposed to flow through the crops at this time of year, Rufiji, april 2023 @Nina Puslecki
Bibliography related to the internship and dissertation topic
Duvail, S., Mwakalinga, A. B., Eijkelenburg, A., Hamerlynck, O., Kindinda, K., & Majule, A. (2014). Jointly thinking the post-dam future : Exchange of local and scientific knowledge on the lakes of the Lower Rufiji, Tanzania. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 59(3-4), 713-730. https://doi.org/10.1080/02626667.2013.827792