Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's not only the drought that causes hunger in Tanzania

Tanzania has also been suffering their worst drought in recent memory. What has made the drought even more painful is the lack of resources in dealing with it. Meteorologists predicted the drought, but many small villages do not have have any TV or radio to be warned about the weather. Now that the drought is drying crops, it is hard to get food to the people in need due to impassible roads.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Kizito Makoye describes some of the factors that compounds the effects of the drought.

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.

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.

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.

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