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‘Natural resource degradation puts Tanzania’s development goals at risk’

Accelerated degradation of land and water resources, deforestation and biodiversity loss put Tanzania’s development goals at risk, according to a World Bank report

The report warns that the country has a rapidly shrinking opportunity to harness its natural resources against serious risks posed by rapid population growth, economic growth, increasing urbanisation and climate variability and change.

“The impacts of these factors are intensifying and have resulted in significant loss of ecosystems, competing demands for land and water, and environmental pollution,” said Daniel Mira-Salama, senior environmental specialist at World Bank and co-author of the country environmental assessment.

Despite robust economic growth which the country has enjoyed, Tanzania’s total wealth per capita – the sum of all physical, human, and natural capital – declined between 1995 and 2014. This decline is attributed to rapid population growth which has outpaced investment and occasioned the loss of total renewable natural capital per capita by 35 per cent over the past 20 years.

Tanzania hosts one of the largest poor populations in Africa, with approximately 21.3mn citizens living below the poverty line, many of them depending on natural resources for their livelihoods. Competing demands for open access to many of Tanzania’s natural resources are causing the resources’ degradation and are limiting their ability to continue to provide goods and services.

“The challenges are surmountable if tackled effectively and the underlying causes and drivers of environmental degradation are addressed strategically. Connecting the dots between deforestation in upper catchments and a higher flood risk in a coastal city, or between illegal ivory trafficking and a lower number of international tourists visiting the country requires multisectoral coordination and a common, integrated approach to development,” commented Bella Bird, country director at World Bank for Tanzania, Malawi, Somalia and Burundi.

More traditional environmental and natural resources challenges include degradation of land and water resources, deforestation and biodiversity loss. They are most relevant for rural areas, where natural resources are subject to competing demands. Other challenges are pollution-related, more frequently associated with urban settlements, industrialisation and agglomeration, some of which have only recently emerged.

The country environmental analysis was prepared in close coordination with the Government of Tanzania and with support from the Swedish Embassy and SIDA. It analyses critical environmental and natural resources management challenges and provides policy recommendations on how to address them.

The report suggests different development paths for Tanzania. The country’s ‘wildlife economy’ and the ‘blue economy’ are highlighted as being important for conserving the country’s biodiversity and marine and freshwater resources, as are resilient landscapes. Rural areas that successfully balance ecosystems, economic, and social functions are more resilient to shocks and uncertainties. Access to modern fuels and low impact urbanization can have an immediate positive impact on ecosystems and human health.

At the same time, Tanzania’s urbanisation needs to be compatible with environmental targets to limit pollution, promote sustainable living conditions and create infrastructure and transport systems that are resilient to climate change.