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Worsening drought drives Tanzania's youth to the cities

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 12 November 2012 15:12 GMT

Dar es Salaam's population is surging as hard-hit farmers send their children to town to find work

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AlertNet) — Changing weather patterns in Tanzania have caused a rising wave of migration from rural to urban areas, with thousands of youths flocking into Dar es Salaam, the largest city, in search of work.

Most of the young people come from areas of the country hit by long spells of dry weather that has affected agricultural activities, according to authorities.

The Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner’s Office estimates that every day more than 100 young adults (aged 18-35) enter Dar es Salaam, whose name means harbour of peace.

Climate change is one of the principal reasons that people are abandoning their traditional livelihood of farming, experts say.

Agriculture still plays a pivotal role in Tanzania’s national economy, accounting for more than a quarter of GDP and employing about 80 percent of the country’s population of 46 million, according to the ministry of agriculture, food security and cooperatives.

But farmers have been plagued by low harvests as a result of increasing extreme weather, as well as land degradation and lack of reliable markets.

Swedi Omary was barely 18 years old when he came to Dar a year ago. A combination of poverty and poor prospects for making a living forced him to leave his village in the central region of Singida, about 600 km (375 miles) west of Dar es Salaam.

Omary’s father died in 2008. His mother, a farmer, saw her harvests of beans, sorghum and maize dry up as a result of worsening droughts.

The family’s ordeal led to Omary travelling to Dar – a 10-hour trip by train - in a bid to find work so that he could support his mother and two sisters.

Omary, who arrived in October 2011, got a job in about a week selling domestic products imported from China. He now works on the street and door to door, hawking items ranging from curtain rails and car accessories to utensils such as blenders. Despite tough competition, he now earns enough to send some money home, he said.


Rapid migration to Dar is increasingly putting pressure on the city’s infrastructure. Many migrants, faced with intense competition for jobs and homes, end up living in overcrowded squats.

Statistics published by the Regional Commissioner’s office project population growth in Dar es Salaam to rise from more than 3 million today to 4.5 million by 2015.

Said Meck Sadick, Dar es Salaam’s regional commissioner, said most people who move into the city originate from Dodoma, Tabora, Kigoma, Mtwara, Lindi, Singida and Shinyanga regions, where there are few economic opportunities.

These regions have all experienced lower than average rainfall for the past few years, according to the Tanzania Meteorological Agency.

Whether rural-urban migration amounts to an effective adaptation to climate change impacts or a growing risk to cities and migrants themselves remains disputed. But controlling the influx of people to Dar is difficult because it requires policy coordination among numerous regional authorities, Sadick said.

“We do not have a system in place to monitor people who come and (who are) getting out of the city, so it is difficult to have any plans to prevent the influx,” he added.


One migrant, 24-year-old Gumbo Mashwele, from Chamwino in Dodoma province, did not know anybody when he first came to Dar es Salaam nine months ago.

“I decided to come to Dar because I believe there is a chance to get an income to help my family,” he said.

For the past five years, Chamwino has been hit by drought which has affected most families, putting some in the village on the brink of starvation, Mashwele said.

That left Mashwele with little choice but to migrate. But coping with city life was far from easy at first, he said, not least because “everything was happening very fast.”

A new friend offered him a temporary job selling women’s clothing in the Mwenge neighbourhood, and shouting through a megaphone to woo customers. With practice and hard work, he said, he now earns a profit of about 50,000 Tanzanian shillings ($30) a day and is well known in the area as a successful vendor – and the owner of his own business.

 “The only way to succeed is to work hard,” he says. “There are many challenges but you keep on working.”

Mashwele has not forgotten his roots, and stays in touch with his family back in Chamwino. He is able to send his mother at least 50,000 shillings ($30) each week to buy food.

“I love my family, and I believe my success is through their prayers,” he said.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam.

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