Posts Tagged ‘community needs’

Every tourist has heard the rule: only drink bottled water in foreign countries. That maxim is especially true for travelers in Tanzania, a still-developing nation where lack of infrastructure often means bottled water is the only safe drinking water.

But the reliance on bottled water comes with one significant drawback: huge amounts of plastic waste in a nation that is only now taking the first steps towards recycling.

One group, however, is turning trash into treasure for their community. Meeting Point Tanga (TICC), a community development organization with a particular focus on education, decided to build an internet café for students entirely out of discarded bottles.

bottle house tangaThe building in progress. Photo: TICC Meetingpoint Tanga

According to TICC director Rugh Nesje, the decision to build using bottles served two purposes: showcasing a better alternative to burning plastic waste, tossing it in dumps, or simply throwing it along the roadside (all of which are common practices in Tanzania); and creating a community space where students can gather safely outside of school hours.

The group used a total of 3,450 bottles of different sizes to create the structure. It’s a small dent in the worldwide issue of plastic waste—the US alone goes through a staggering 29 billion water bottles a year—but it’s a start in a country where thousands of bottles are used every day.

Best of all, the building has some structural advantages; the relative flexibility of the bottles means they can take heavier loads and withstand shocks more easily than rigid building materials like brick.

This low-cost project will have a huge impact on youth in the community, who will be able to freely access the internet outside of school hours, now. Hopefully it can also serve as a model throughout Tanzania, and the rest of the developing world.

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Recent reports indicate that Tanzania has managed to reduce maternal mortality rates by two-thirds since 2000, an achievement that puts the country well ahead of schedule in attaining this important UN Millenium Development Goal (MDG).

The MDGs were originally outlined in 2000, with all 189 UN then-member states committing themselves to achieving eight goals by 2015:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Each of the goals was tied to specific benchmarks; to achieve goal 5, developing nations couldn’t merely reduce maternal mortality, they had to reduce it by 75% or more from 1990 levels by the year 2015. Tanzania has already achieved this remarkable turnaround, thanks to concerted efforts in recent years to educate women about health issues, provide greater access to women’s health services, and reach rural communities, often most affected by all the problems the MDGs are meant to combat.

Commitments from NGOs, development partners, and the Tanzanian government have all helped contribute to this success.

Speaking at an international summit on maternal and infant health in Toronto, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete indicated that, despite meeting targets ahead of schedule, Tanzania is still working to further improve maternal outcomes. Bringing new maternity wards and operation facilities to all district health centers is one of Kikwete’s top priorities, especially for the over 12,000 small rural villages in Tanzania, many of which currently lack access to adequate healthcare, maternal or otherwise.

Despite significant challenges, chief among them a lack of trained medical workers, gynecologists, and midwives, Kikwete has set a lofty goal for the country: zero deaths in childbirth. If things continue improving for mothers in Tanzania, the country may just be on the path towards achieving that sooner than later.

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Clashes between local populations and wildlife have always been a problem in Africa; many animals live outside national park boundaries, and farmers and ranchers often find their livelihoods destroyed by these roaming creatures.

Living fences have proven an extremely effective tool for ranchers plagued by large predators (such as big cats), but farmers face a different pest: elephants. Thomson Safaris guests often enjoy evening drinks and snacks around the “tembo fire,” but travelers may not realize that fire serves a very important purpose for African farmers: it’s meant to drive away tembos, or elephants.

This and other prevention methods have so far proven inadequate, and farmers regularly find their fields trampled by wandering herds or even just a single stray elephant. This has led some farmers to kill elephants in order to protect their livelihood. Moreover, over the last 20 years, the human population around the edges of the Serengeti has doubled, causing some concern that such clashes could increase soon.

But a simple solution that got its start in Kenya is catching on in Tanzania: beehive fences.

These inexpensive fences—100 m of beehive fencing costs just $500—have proven extremely effective against elephant-based crop destruction. Elephants (like many animals) are notoriously cautious of bees, and once they encounter a hive, will generally retreat.

beehive fencesA beehive fence constructed in Tanzania.
Photo: Elephants and Bees

The fences are simple; a wire is hung with a series of hives, and any disturbance of one of the hives, or the wire they’re all strung from, will cause all the nearby hives to shake, prompting the bees to fly out and sting (or just drive off) the “attackers.”

Elephants and Bees originally tested the concept in Kenya, where they boast an 85% success rate. In addition to helping protect crops, the hives add a source of income for farmers, who can harvest the honey and sell it as an “elephant-friendly” product.

Moreover, the presence of the bees might directly aid crops; though the evidence is still anecdotal, the bees appear to aid in pollination on nearby farms.

Elephants and Bees has recently been expanding its project beyond Kenya into several neighboring countries, including Tanzania, and local Tanzanian groups (such as the Honeyguide Foundation) are researching the concept for possible future implementation. So far, the fences have been highly successful at blending conservation goals with community needs.

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