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TANZANIA: Poverty Reduction Slow Despite Economic Growth

Sarah McGregor

DAR ES SALAAM, Dec 4 2008 (IPS) - Tanzania is lagging behind on key development goals for safe water, income and health, even though the east African nation has benefited from a growing economy over the last few years, according a newly released household budget survey.

Due to economic growth, the proportion of Tanzania's population living below the poverty line dropped to 33.3 percent last year from 35.7 percent in 2000/01, stated the 2007 survey, which was released by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.

However, the number of people in Tanzania who have to survive on $1.10 a day or less has risen by one million to 12.7 million in the last six years. Researchers have attributed this mainly to an annual population growth of 2.6 percent.

"It's a bit of a shock that poverty has reduced so little despite our efforts," said Monique Bergeron, chair of the poverty-monitoring group of foreign donors to Tanzania and a Canadian diplomat. "Economic growth is moving in the right direction, yet poverty reduction is still marginal."

Tanzania is one of Africa’s biggest recipients of development aid with almost 40 percent of the current 2008/09 budget funded by outside donors. Foreign aid agencies are willing to invest into the country because of its political stability, attempts to crack down on corruption and sound fiscal reforms.

Economic growth in Tanzania, the third-biggest gold producer in Africa, reached about seven percent a year since 2001. Yet, the country remains one of the poorest in the world. The United Nations Human Development Index, which measures a range of social and economic indicators, ranks Tanzania 159 out of 177 nations.

Poverty continues to be rife because progress in spreading Tanzania’s economic benefits has been uneven and many of the poorest citizens have seen little or no improvement in their quality of life, explained Dar es Salaam-based World Bank economist Paolo Zacchia.

Worst off are rural areas that are often cut off from services and other types of support, he said.

The household survey shows that Tanzania is not on track to achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said Zacchia, which are a set of eight global benchmarks to curb poverty and hunger, increase maternal health, reduce child mortality, fight the spread of deadly diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, create gender equality and environmental sustainability, all by 2015.

"The findings [of the survey] call in the question of the effectiveness of government policies to fight poverty and the international aid behind it," said Zacchia.

Tanzania will need decades of solid economic growth to help lift people from poverty and improve basic amenities, added Mugisha Kamugisha, commissioner for policy analysis in the finance ministry.

But a decade-long wait will be too late for Shaibu Hamade (50) a father of four, who earns the equivalent of $92 a month cleaning houses and doing laundry, and hardly makes a living. He believes life in Tanzania is becoming tougher to survive with each year.

"I think, in most ways, life is getting harder," said Hamade. "Prices are high. No one can afford even the basics, food and transport."

The survey shows household incomes are low and the urban-rural gap is wide. Tanzania’s average per capita a month income last year was $31, compared to $27 in 2000/01. Urban poor and rural workers spend 64 percent of their household incomes on feeding themselves, about the same rate as 2000/01.

Few Tanzanians are able to access basic services. Only 58 percent of residents of Tanzania’s biggest city Dar es Salaam, for example, were able to afford piped drinking water in 2007; down from 86 percent six years earlier.

Only one in ten Tanzanians have electricity – the vast majority of them living in cities – which has remained almost unchanged since 2000/01, the survey showed. Instead, burning firewood and using kerosene lamps and stoves are the most common energy sources throughout the country.

What makes matters worse, there was no improvement in sanitation: about seven percent of the country’s 40 million people don’t have a flushing toilet.

Moreover, the level of adult illiteracy has changed little since 2000/01, the survey said, noting that about one quarter of adults have never been to school and cannot read or write.

Health care provision showed mixed results. The number of sick people who sought medical treatment in public hospitals and clinics stayed at 69 percent between 2007 and 2000/01, according to the survey, though more people indicated they were satisfied with their treatment and able to access drugs.

On the upside, Tanzania has managed to bring down mortality rates of children aged five years or younger over the past six years. Mortality levels for under-fives plunged by more than 24 percent between 2005 from 2000, according to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey 2004-05. However, almost 150,000 Tanzanian children continue to die before their fifth birthday.

Despite markedly improved primary school enrolment rates – about 86 percent of those aged 7 to 13 are attending classes now compared to 61 percent in 2000/01 – many young children drop out of school. For children from poor homes, the cost for meals and transport can keep them out of schook, or they may need to leave school to help earn money to support their families, said Zacchia.

The heart of the problem lies in Tanzania’s countryside where 80 percent of people eke out a living on farms and agriculture productivity and where development is hampered by a lack of investment and low-tech equipment, Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told a news conference last month.

"We have to strengthen agriculture or anything that can be done by ordinary people in rural areas: farming, cattle keeping, horticulture," he said. "That’s how we’ll see poverty reduction in the real sense."

Developing economic policies that benefit the poor are key, with special attention placed on income-generating activities in rural areas, say anti-poverty activists.

"We have one million more people [who live] in poverty, which shows we need to broaden growth and become more development focused," said Rakesh Rajani, head of Twaweza, an initiative to empower east African citizens to get involved in public decision-making.


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