Drought, weak infrastructure fuel Tanzanian hunger

Report
from AlertNet
Published on 21 Sep 2010 View Original
By Kizito Makoye

KIWENGO, Tanzania (AlertNet) - In this remote village in Tanzania's Mtwara region, it is not just the worst drought in memory that has left families hungry.

Shabaani Chilumba, 46, normally works at a teaching job, as well as farming to feed his five children. But his $70 a month salary has not been paid in two months as a result of logistical problems, and now his crops have dried up as well.

The stocks of cassava he had set aside ran out in May and since then he and his family have survived by eating vigongo, a wild bitter yam.

Southern Tanzania is experiencing prolonged drought, a problem weather forecasters accurately predicted. But a lack of basic infrastructure in the region - from working roads and electrical supply to radio ownership, which might have alerted more people to the coming problem - has helped turn hardship into hunger.

"The government is not doing enough to avert this disaster. We call upon national leaders to distribute food for free to all affected families in southern regions as soon as possible," said Harold Sungusia a human right activist with the Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre.

PREPAREDNESS IS KEY

Climate change is thought to be playing a key role in worsening droughts across east Africa. But drought by itself does not cause disasters, experts emphasize. It is a lack of preparedness for problems and a lack of means to deal with them that turns drought into hunger, they say.

In the Nanyumbu district of Mtwara, it is easy to see the scale of the growing hunger problem, with many farming families forced to turn to collecting traditional roots and fruit to survive. Local ward councilors estimate over 60,000 people in remote parts of Mtwara and Lindi regions are suffering serious food shortages.

John Kikowi, one Nanyumbu resident, said his children often get sick after eating little but vigongo root, a wild traditional food that his family dries and pounds into a flour-like powder used to cook porridge.

"I feel sorry for my family but this seems to be the only way out for the time being," he said. Like many, he said the food shortage had come as a surprise.

"We have never experienced such a dry season. It is the worst we have ever seen," said Jamhuri Maige, a Kiwengo village ward leader.

The Tanzania Meteorological Agency predicted last year that drought would grip most parts of central and southern Tanzania in 2010. But the dry weather still came as a surprise to most villagers in remote Kiwengo, where maize, beans, rice, yams and cassava are normally grown.

NOT ENOUGH RADIOS

Very few possess radios, so news and educational programmes on climate change rarely reach the village.

According to experts from the disaster management department of the Prime Minister's Office, who assessed the situation in the affected areas, the problems drought-affected farmers face are expected to worsen because of difficulties delivering relief food in the remote region.

They estimate that at least 40,000 metric tonnes of grain are needed to help the most-affected regions in southern Tanzania get through the next year. The government has been trying to sell grain from its strategic reserves at a subsidized price to help people in the area, but deep poverty means many lack funds to buy even subsidized food, local officials said.

Lindi and Mtwara are some of the most underdeveloped regions in southern Tanzania, lacking highway and energy infrastructure despite the 2003 completion of a bridge linking the regions to the rest of the country.

Reselling of subsidized grain is another problem facing the region. While government-supplied maize sells for 5 cents a kilogramme, private shops in Lindi were offering bags of the subsidized maize at 20 cents a kilo during a reporter's visit.

Officials of Tanzania's Disaster Management Department said they are doing all they can to ensure food reaches the regions worst affected by drought, and that efforts to provide relief food are underway.

Last year, drought caused displacement of people and livestock in northern Tanzania as herders searched for pasture.

Luwaga Kizoka, a University of Dar es Salaam political scientist, and Haji Semboj, a senior economist at the university, say the ongoing drought this year, which is affecting a variety of regions in Tanzania, may drive affected families over national borders, particularly to Kenya.

Easing the continuing drought problems, officials say, may require taking a look at Tanzania's sometimes antiquated traditional agricultural production, which may not be sustainable given the pressures of changing weather patterns. Shoring up infrastructure in the worst-affected areas also will help, they say.

Kizito Makoye is a Tanzanian journalist based in Dar es Salaam.

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