Monday, December 31, 2012

Water, water everywhere . . .

Market Day, Arusha
We're not in Tanzania anymore. I don't see people riding bicycles overloaded with produce or goods to sell at the market, young men pushing carts, or small boys driving a herd of goats alongside the road. I don't see women of all ages carrying heavy buckets of water home. I took this quick shot of the market in Arusha out the window of our jeep as we were being whisked through town to a national park. We didn't see much of everyday life on this trip.

Tanzania is decidedly a rural country:  90% of its people (2) live in rural areas and make their living from the earth, compared to 20% in the United States (1). Everywhere around Arusha, the Serengheti, and the Ngorongoro, people lived close to the land, tilling dry fields, and hoping for rain. A rainy season, we are told, that is getting shorter.

Maasai village near the Serengheti
So I've been thinking about global warming and wondering about its impact on Tanzania and its rural peoples.

The first article I found from the World Wildlife Federation itemized the dramatic shrinkage of glaciers (down 55% between 1952-2000), the loss of glacier and cloud forest melt to already short water supplies in the area around Mount Kilimanjaro, home to some one million people. Global warming in the Indian Ocean has flooded some traditional fishing communities and led to something called coral bleaching -- which directly affected tourism, again the loss counted in millions of dollars. Scientists say in the next hundred years, Zanzibar Island, a major tourist attraction with a rich history, may well be inundated by rising seas.

Over the last decade, I have seen glaciers shrink in Montana's Glacier National Park, where once 125 glaciers graced the mountains. My first reaction is how sad to lose such beautiful natural sites that we all enjoy. I don't immediately think of the impact on animals and the surrounding ecosystems as habitat changes. We've seen thousands of acres of forest destroyed by pine beetles in the US and Canada, directly attributable to drier land (4).

We take almost as a truism that third world countries have a lower standard of living, but everywhere we were welcomed with smiles. More statistics: The rate of crime in the United States is 715 incidents per 100,000. In Tanzania, the crime rate is 116 per 100,000. If a child begins school, he or she can expect to finish 15.2 years in the US; in Tanzania, 5 years. If we compare adult education, adults in the United States on average have completed 12 years of school. Adults in Tanzania, 2.7 years (1).

According to Tanzania's Minister of Energy, some 6.6% of those 90% living in rural areas have access to electricity, compared to about 20% of Tanzanians who live in major cities (2). We did not eat ice cream in Tanzania. I had never thought of ice cream as a first world treat before. The children at the school we visited did not exactly know what ice cream was.

Tanzanians everywhere talked about global warming, each not sure what to do. We can appreciate our time there, experiencing the amazing national parks with their diversity of wildlife, the stretch of human history from the earliest days, and its iconic landscape. I come away from this once-in-a-lifetime visit to Tanzania well aware of the differences in our quality of life. Money alone will not help, though our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel, funds projects through a foundation in every country it tours. I think Tanzania is vulnerable in ways we cannot imagine.

(1) Statistics: NationMaster
(2) All Africa Reports
(3) WWF (World Wildlife Fund)
(4) Glacier National Park, Retreat of Glaciers

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