Tanzania

  • Oxfam has been working with local partners in Tanzania since the 1960s. We help farmers to get fair prices for their produce, improve access to education and its quality, and promote awareness and provision of care and support to people living with HIV and AIDS.

Inside East Africa's massive locust infestation

Taking advantage of favourable breeding conditions, locusts hit farmers and herders in areas already reeling from climate shocks.

Desert locust infestations have moved across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and are now entering areas of northern Uganda. The insects are also threatening Sudan and South Sudan, and there are reports of locust swarms now in Tanzania.

map of affected areas
Map of affected areas. Credit: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world: A large desert locust plague can contain up to 58 million individuals per square mile, with half a million locusts weighing approximately one ton. One ton of locusts eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.

"We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently," said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a farmer from Bura Dhima in Tana River, Kenya. This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone.

The locusts have hit the region after countries there were affected by huge droughts and in some areas flash floods. There are currently 22.8m people facing severe food insecurity in these countries following consecutive failed rainy seasons, unusual floods, and storms.

The fast-moving locust swarms have been made worse by the climate crisis because they are feeding on new vegetation, the result of unusual weather patterns. They are devastating pastures and grasslands and could ruin new food crops during the March-to-July growing season.

Oxfam's Response

Oxfam is gearing up its humanitarian operations and will work closely with local partners and communities. Program staff in the region report they aim to reach more than 190,000 of the most vulnerable people with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds, and health services.

In Somalia, together with local partners, Oxfam intends to assist 11,670 households of the most vulnerable people. In Kenya, Oxfam will work in seven of the 13 affected counties to assist 3,000 households in the first phase of operations, and another 5,000 in the second. In Ethiopia, Oxfam aims to reach another 5,000 households with similar aid. Oxfam will need to secure more than €4.6 million (£3.8 million) to mount this response.

Unusual rains advance breeding

This outbreak has been exacerbated by climate change. Cyclones that struck the Arabian Peninsula last year created ideal conditions for desert locusts to multiply. The swarms crossed to the Horn of Africa, where unusually heavy rains late last year created favorable breeding conditions. Heavy rain leads to growth of vegetation in arid areas, providing locusts with more food, and the conditions needed to develop and reproduce.

You can help Oxfam respond to the locust crisis in East Africa.

Five things you need to know about Africa's locust crisis

1. What is a locust and how do they live?

Locusts are a type of grasshopper that live for only 3 months. They generally live quiet, solitary lives – until they change their behaviour and form massive ravenous swarms that can migrate over long distances, flying up to 150 km per day. Swarms can contain up to 10 billion individuals, devastating local farms and livelihoods as all of them migrate.

2. Why is this a crisis?

This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone. One of the alarming reasons why is because locust adults can eat their own weight every day. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a swarm the size of Paris will consume the same amount of food in a single day as half the population of Mali, Niger and France, respectively. If environmental conditions remain suitable, the swarms could grow 500 times bigger by June, destroying valuable pasture and food supplies across parts of Ethiopia and Kenya and could also put South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti at risk, making it the worst locust infestation in 25 years.

The last major locust crisis was in West Africa in 2003-05 and cost $2.5 billion in harvest losses, according to the UN.

“We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently,” said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a Kenyan farmer.

swarm of locusts in africa
Desert locusts have swarmed into Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia, destroying farmland. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

3. How is this locust crisis related to climate change?

The last five years have been hotter than any other since the industrial revolution. Studies have linked a hotter climate to more damaging locust swarms, leaving Africa, which is home to 20 of the world’s fastest-warming countries, disproportionately affected.

However, locusts also thrive in wet conditions and the amount of rain that fell on the Horn of Africa between October to December 2019 was up to 400 per cent above normal. These heavy rains were caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, which is also accentuated by climate change.

4. How is this locust crisis affecting local communities?

The infestation is affecting communities across East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya – three countries absolutely devastated by severe droughts and flooding in recent years. Now the livelihoods of more than 13 million people, who are already experiencing severe food shortages as a result of climate-related weather extremes, are under threat once again.

woman in locust swarm africa
A woman stands among a swarm of locusts, trying to chase them away. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

5. What is Oxfam doing to help and how can I help?

Oxfam aims to reach over 190,000 of the most vulnerable people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds and health services. Our teams believe that infestations are also likely across South Sudan and Sudan, so preparations are already under way to mount a response to this crisis.

You can help by donating to help affected communities across the region. The livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people are under severe threat so we need your support!

The refugee crisis you won’t have heard about: On the ground in Tanzania

The situation facing refugees from Syria has been one of the big international stories of the past year but another crisis has been less visible.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, into neighbouring Tanzania after election tensions last year led to weeks of violent protests.

Michael O’Riordan, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Coordinator, took a lead role in organising the humanitarian response.

Having been involved in many humanitarian programmes before ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines to South Sudan, Michael was well prepared for his secondment to Tanzania last year.

Nevertheless, the huge influx of refugees arriving from Burundi meant it was like “setting up a small town from scratch” at the Nyarugusu camp.

Michael first arrived in May last year after approximately 30,000 people crowded onto a rugged beach shore of Kakunga Beach, Lake Tanganyika, on the Burundi and Tanzania border. Many spent up to three weeks here in exposed, cramped conditions with little clean water, food or sanitation.

Watch this video where Michael shares his experiences in Tanzania, responding to the Burundian refugee crisis:

Michael in Tanzania | Oxfam Check-In

The refugees there were brought to the Nyarugusu camp, where Michael helped set up Oxfam’s emergency programme. Often whatever worldly belongings they brought on their journey had to be left behind to be transported to the camp at a later date, meaning that many refugees arrive in the camp with just the clothes on their back. People are thirsty and tired; many are sick. They’ve gone through so much already just to get to this point, and what they need now is clean water, food and a place to sleep.

One of Michael’s main priorities was to expand the existing water and sanitation network within the Nyarugusu camp to allow for the huge numbers arriving. The original water system was built by Oxfam 20 years ago and was designed to be used by 50,000 people but was already being used by 65,000 mainly Congolese refugees. (Nyarugusu was created in the mid-1990s to house people fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The numbers of people now arriving from Burundi since May 2015 has made Nyarugusu the world’s third largest refugee camp today with a population of 173,000 with the vast majority new arrivals (it was once the ninth largest).

Having so many people living in such close proximity to each other creates conditions ripe for diseases like cholera and typhoid to spread. Access to clean running water, a toilet and a shower is vital.

Above: Michael O'Riordan shares a moment of laughter with refugee children in Tanzania.

“We were dealing with approximately 30,000 of the refugees coming from Burundi’, says Michael. “So many basic services were lacking, and we had to set them up from scratch. This meant the first phase of the trip was very busy, with many 24 hour days and very little sleep. We also had to import some of our equipment due to the lack of services in the area. The only way of importing this was driving from Nairobi in Kenya all the way to northern Tanzania, which was a good four/five days of physical driving.”

The Tanzania Water and Environment Sanitation (TWESA), a local NGO set up by Oxfam, partnered up with Oxfam in dealing with the crisis. Michael describes how TWESA’s local knowledge of the area meant they had the capacity to respond effectively to the crisis. There was also a reunion of old friends, as many of the Oxfam and TWESA staff had previously worked together before.

The long days and limited services were challenges for Michael and his team, but it was easy to be reminded of the importance of a humanitarian presence in the area on his first day meeting refugees. “I was talking to a woman who had been separated from her husband and some of her children, and who had not received food in five days,” he says. “It really brought home to me the desperate situation which many were facing, and the work that needed to be done.’’

Clockwise from top: Boy using Oxfam water station for hygiene at Tanzanian refugee camp. Oxfam workers prepare water supplies at Tanzanian refugee camp. Refugees in Tanzania.

Along with improving water and sanitation systems and providing basic hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and sanitary towels, Michael observed a need for something else basic but equally vital – buckets, cooking pots and kitchen utensils for people to carry, prepare and eat the food being distributed to them, something which Oxfam has since distributed.

People were using any container they could find to collect the nutritious porridge-like food that was being distributed, and Michael watched as a man, who had queued for hours, finished what he had to eat and walked down the length of the queue to pass his precious container onto the first person who had none.

“That generosity, even in their hardship, these people were willing to share with each other to make sure that they could each get food really struck me. I met that man again several weeks later, and he was able to take me to where he was staying now… he had set up a little barber business using a razor powered by solar energy. In so far as you can be in that environment, he was trying to make his life normal again.

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