FIFTY-year-old Pusindawa Ndaskoi starts his day feeling weary and hungry. But coming out of his hut, he puts on a brave face and scans the blue sky that apparently promises nothing better than the previous day. It is another day of scorching sun.
As columns of whirlwind blow past his compound in succession, raising dust across the empty, dry fields of Meserani Bwawani Village in northern Tanzania’s Monduli District, Ndaskoi feels even more dejected and miserable.
A stone’s throw from where he is standing hawks are feeding on a carrion of a cattle that Ndaskoi says starved to death due to lack of pasture and water.
“We have had no good rains for the past eight years. In the last four consecutive farming seasons, we had no crop to harvest. Everything failed and we are now surviving on emergency food handouts brought by the government,” laments Ndaskoi, one of the few elderly people remaining in the village.
Ndaskoi warns: “The changes in weather which are causing a lot of trouble to mankind is more dangerous than HIV/AIDS. I can protect myself from catching HIV/AIDS but I cannot protect myself from drinking water. Water is life, and without water there is no life.”
The weather has been unpredictable and farmers in this area all the time, gambled with it in sowing seeds and yet reaped nothing. More at risk are the livelihoods of 995 villagers of Meserani who depend on farming and cattle breeding.
“Prolonged drought has depopulated the village, forcing half of its residents to move to Tanga Region where water is available. As a result of progressive migration, our village is left with children, women and elderly people,” says Ndaskoi.
This is climate change or global warming, terminologies of scientists and politicians that are rather unfamiliar to Tanzanian rural communities. Besides its negative influence on traditional human activities, climate change is gradually taking toll of the environment and forcing communities to start an unplanned migration.
Migrating peasants and pastoralists, however, would be able to carry on with their usual occupations in new locations where they resettle if host communities don’t regard them as invaders on their land.
“Climate change has not been a gradual phenomenon,” says Ndaskoi. “It has been a sudden and dramatic occurrence to us. Under normal weather patterns I harvest between 200 and 300 bags of maize but over the last four years I have never garnered a bag of maize in a season.”
For Ndaskoi, the current drought has brought multiple challenges and weighted his burden of family responsibilities. He is a polygamist with four wives and 10 children. All depend on him for their daily needs.
Climate change has turned lives upside down for everybody in the village. The greenery that the village prided itself in rainy seasons, when the fields were under maize, beans, millet and sunflower crops, is now history. Nobody has an idea of reversing the situation.
Ndaskoi says six of his children are attending government-owned primary schools and four others are in government secondary schools. “Had they been in private schools they would have dropped out by now for lack of school fees,” he adds.
Thanks to the government policy on universal education, pupils attending state-funded schools enjoy free primary education but parents or guardians are required to chip in with some money for secondary education. The amount charged is considerably affordable even to the majority of people earning less than a dollar a day.
It is the same story of drought-hit Meserani Bwawani Village that is told throughout Monduli District and the affected population yearns for remedy.
Kimani Merendei Ipanga, 40, sheds tears to see the rangeland of Orkatan Village in Kisongo Division turning into a dust bowl. “Our cattle are starving and dying in droves. Surviving animals are emaciated to the point that we cannot sell them.”
“The future looks bleak,” Ipanga foretells, noting that the dams where the village’s 1,200 residents watered their cattle have already dried up.
Sticking to customs of the ethnic Maasai people, Ipanga declined to tell the size of his cattle herd saying: “In Maasai tradition it is forbidden to reveal the number of animals that one owns,” he says.
The accounts of Ndaskoi and Ipanga are just a tip of the iceberg as a large part of the Tanzanian population, currently put at 40 million, are already suffering the distress caused by drought.
Monduli District is in reality famine stricken, with an official count showing that 76,889 people out of its total population of 110,000 are in need of relief food. The majority are pastoralists.