By Bilham Kimati
Numerous risks have been associated with the leakage of natural gas at Ubungo Power Plant. Experts say that the situation can be a ticking time bomb that could explode any time causing disastrous mayhem.
However the risk is not only at Ubungo as many petrol stations are located in crowded places and residential areas.
More than 300 business people, pedestrians and commuters mill around this dangerous spot especially in the afternoons when business is at its peak.The anomaly has caught the attention of regional authorities who are now keen on finding a solution to the looming problem. The area is always crowded, with business people and pedestrians milling around not far from the power plant's fence.
The crowd in the area mainly consists of food vendors, second hand clothes sellers and dealers in farm produce who call on customers to buy their wares constantly, polluting the area with noise. Other small scale traders sell utensils, shoes, fruits and vegetables.Ubungo gas power plant generates 180 megawatts (MW) of electricity that is fed into the national grid which supplies electricity to various regions in the country.
Despite measures taken by Songas to ensure public safety, which includes close monitoring of the plant through a combination of computerized safety programmes, visual ground inspection and others indicate that the presence of human activities is dangerous and those working in the vicinity are at risk.
During an exclusive interview with the Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Mr Said Meck Sadiki, the 'Sunday News' learnt about plans by his office to "clean-up" the site."The regional human safety and security committee has noticed the imminent danger. We are, hence working out plans that will enhance security and protection of workers and passers-by in the area," RC Sadiki explained.
Without giving details, he said that funds have been obtained for the job and those stationed around the locality should start vacating. "At Ubungo we have vital installations which must be well taken care of. It is better to take safety measures before adversity strikes," the RC insisted.
The Acting Commissioner General of Fire Fighting Force, Mr Pius Nyamabacha, insisted that disaster must be prevented."It requires extra effort to extinguish a gas fire because of its explosive nature. It can spread rapidly and cover a square kilometre with devastating effects. We don't want this to happen. Necessary measures must be taken to elevate safety levels," Nyambacha said.
When contacted for comment, David Kirway of the Disaster Control Division in the Prime Minister's Office commended the regional authorities for notification of the looming danger at Ubungo and on-going preparations to avert danger."Common hazards that carry the danger of causing disasters in Tanzania include epidemics, pest infestation, droughts, floods, major transport and industrial accidents, refugees and fires. Strong winds and earthquakes are few and occur rarely, others occur more regularly," he explained.
University of Dar es Salaam Electrical Engineer Dr Arnold Towoli said that gas leakage was extremely dangerous especially when it comes into contact with sparks or any other source of ignition.According to the 'Sunday News' survey recently in the areas some sparks occur during the transmission of electricity whenever there is a loose connection.
"At the same setting (Ubungo) you have a combination of diesel and electricity generating plants. You also have gas powered plants and hydro-power supplied electricity. This is absolutely wrong in the first place. There is no justification to have all these at one place," Dr Arnold observed.He added that nowadays it is a common phenomenon to see power transformers blowing up.
"Even if they don't explode sparks do occur where you have friction and loose-fitting connections. In case of a leakage the situation can develop into a disaster," he said.Dr Yusuf Sembojah of Tumaini University said that in the presence of an ignition source a gas leak can result in a huge explosion immediately.
"The most explosive gases include natural gas, methane, propane and butane. They are widely used for heating. Industrial gas explosions can be prevented with the use of intrinsic safety barriers to prevent ignition," Dr Sembojah advised.Records indicate that many industrial accidents are associated with gas leakages and electrical faults. Tipper Refinery at Kigamboni in Dar es Salaam and the Arusha Sun-flag incidences are vivid examples. Accidents associated with electrical fault are many and are ever increasing.
Through the internet we learn that disasters can strike anywhere. For example, on March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion destroying the New London School of the city of New London in Texas. The disaster killed three hundred students and teachers. However, interviewed vendors in the locality seem to be more concerned with their daily search for money than a gas-leakage that, seemingly, does not pose immediate danger.
"This is the right place to make business. This kind of crowding assures us of good business. We all fear death but, sometimes, life is about risk taking," said Moses Ndemasi (28), owner of a kiosk.Mwanaidi Hamisi (36) is a single mother of three. She seems to be aware of the danger but she says: "I earn bread for the family through cooking and selling food. We pray that fire does not erupt around this place," she prayed.
Tanzania has been experiencing a number of disasters that have caused losses of life, property and destruction to environment. A disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a society causing wide spread human, material and environmental losses, which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope with using its own resources.