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Climate change and Tanzania

Unless you’re a devoted environmentalist it can be confusing keeping up with all the forums, summits and conferences dedicated to the reduction of climate change.

This time it’s the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December and it’s all over the news. Gordon Brown is warning “there are now fewer than 50 days to set the course of the next 50 years and more”’ and that there is “no plan B.”

Ahead of the conference, Tanzanian President Kikwete recently called on the richest nations to spearhead efforts to save the planet. In Tanzania, 40 million people rely on the weather for their agricultural livelihoods.

Melting ice cap

I experienced this firsthand on New Year’s Day this year. My friend Poppy and I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro after a brutal night of climbing and feeling sick. It was -20 Celsius, the water in our backpacks froze solid, but there was very little ice at the top. For 11,000 years the famous white cap covered the roof of Africa’s largest mountain, but in the past century it has shrunk by 88%. It’s nearly gone. 

What next?

By 2020 the ice cap may no longer be there. Around 800,000 people live on the mountain and depend on it for their livelihoods and for water. When the ice melts there is less rain, leading to crop failure. Where will the villagers get their water from when the rivers no longer flow?


Coastal regions will also suffer. Maziwe Island, north east Tanzania, has been underwater for the past decade. Other islands are in danger, forcing the government to build a wall to monitor the sea level. Unpredictable weather patterns have led to drought and loss of livestock and crops across east Africa.

In the past four decades, the temperature has risen by one whole degree for the winter months of May to August.

Working in agriculture, our programmes revolve around the planting seasons and harvests. The past two rainy seasons were erratic. The past two harvests were poor.

Farming challenges

The people we work with are some of the poorest in the world. They are subsistence farmers who grow crops for food with little left over to sell. Farming accounts for three quarters of their income. Farming in Tanzania is not a profitable business for most. With the change in climate some crops may flourish but many staples will fail.

In sub-Saharan Africa every day of climate change is a matter of life and death. We here in Tanzania hope the world leaders make a decision in December that reflects the needs of the poorest people who don’t have the technology, skills or resources to adapt.