In the United States, we see the impacts of climate change directly, from increasingly severe hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. We see it indirectly, too, from the many families migrating north from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Though a number of factors drive these families north, climate change undoubtedly contributes. Their home countries are located in what is known as the Dry Corridor, an area of extreme drought and erratic rainfall. For those who depend on smallholder farming, climate change is devastating.
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Across the globe, another developing nation faces similar danger. Over the past 40 years, Tanzania has also endured severe and recurring droughts. The average annual temperature in Tanzania has increased by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1960 while rainfall has become unpredictable. By 2060, the average annual temperature is projected to increase by 1.0 to 2.7 degrees Celsius. By the 2090s, it is expected to increase 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. On a human level, these worsening weather patterns lead to greater food insecurity, risk of disease and burden on vulnerable populations such as women.
Climate Change Causes Hunger
Like the imperiled Central American countries, many of Tanzania’s residents are small-scale farmers. In fact, more than 80% of the population works in agriculture. (Read about Tanzanian agriculture in a BTF blog post, “Tanzanians Celebrate Nane Nane Day.”) Agriculture accounts for 32% of its GDP.
Severe weather has led to a $200 million annual loss for the agricultural sector. It is fair to say that climate change has exacerbated food insecurity. According to UNICEF, roughly 2.7 million children were stunted in 2015 and more than 600,000 suffered from acute malnutrition. It follows that those living with food insecurity are more vulnerable to disease.
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Disease Risk Increases
We listened with dismay as reporters told of the locust plague on SubSaharan Africa in February 2020. It reminded us of the dangers that insects, small as they are individually, pose collectively to humans. Changes in temperature and precipitation impact the habitat and behavior of vectors, leading to an increase in diseases like malaria and dengue. In addition, changes in rainfall patterns and increasing droughts impact water supply. Many rural areas already lack sanitation and treated water. The stress on the country for safe and plentiful water will only increase as climate change worsens. Without widespread sanitation and hygiene, the population is more vulnerable to water-borne diseases like dysentery. Finally, with increased drought and temperature increase, those living in poorly constructed housing or shacks which lack proper ventilation are at risk for conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke and asthma.
Climate Smart Strategies
In order to build resistance to increasingly severe weather patterns and prevent disease and hunger, the best place to start in Tanzania is agriculture. Efforts are being made to increase the use of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices. These practices act to increase agricultural output while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, because livestock contribute the most to emissions, ideally more focus would be placed on crop production.
Other CSA practices might include using improved seed varieties, cover cropping, rainwater harvesting and composting. Some have proposed public-private partnerships and investments so that smallholder farmers could form cooperatives where they would have greater access to credit for CSA investments.
Global Warming Disproportionately Impacts Women
Because women in Tanzania do not share equal rights or socio-economic status with their male counterparts, they are disproportionately impacted by climate change. While women make up half of the workforce and produce more than 70% of the country’s food, they have lower access to climate information, early warnings during a natural disaster and agricultural services. One study in Tanzania showed that widows, especially the elderly and illiterate, are most at risk from climate change.
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Indeed, the empowerment of women is one of our most powerful tools in mitigating the impact of climate change. In 2019, policymakers from nine East African countries pledged to lobby their governments and other influencers to embed gender mainstreaming in climate change policies.
A leader of one of Tanzania’s neighbors said it best: “The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children.” - Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda