Tanzania is an East African country known for its vast wilderness areas. They include the plains of Serengeti National Park, a safari mecca populated by the “big five” game (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino), and Kilimanjaro National Park, home to Africa’s highest mountain. Offshore are the tropical islands of Zanzibar and Mafia Marine Park, where whale sharks swim through reefs.

Tanzania Map
  • Population, total (2014) 50,757,459
  • Number of rural poor (2014) 11.7 million
  • Mortality rate, under-5 (2013) 51.8 deaths per 1,000 births
  • Life expectancy (2013) 61.5 years
  • Literacy rate (age 15 and above) (2010) 67.8%
  • Physicians per 1,000 people (2012) 0.09 – compared to 2.1 in Canada
    Prevalence of HIV (ages 15-49) (2013) 5.0%

Poverty in Tanzania

In 2014, Tanzania ranked 159 out of 187 on the United Nation’s Human Development Index.

The United Republic of Tanzania is an emerging economy with high potential. But despite impressive growth in its gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, it remains one of the world’s poorest countries in terms of per capita income.

Most people living in rural areas remain extremely poor. The agricultural sector has not benefited from the same momentum as other sectors and is still in need of investment and modernization.

Nevertheless, the economy of Tanzania largely depends on agriculture, which accounts for about one quarter of GDP and employs about 80% of the workforce in a population estimated at 50 million.

Agriculture remains highly sensitive to extreme weather patterns, such as recent droughts, which have severely affected crop and livestock production as well as power generation.

Tanzania poverty

Approximately 90% of Tanzania’s poor people live in rural areas. The incidence of poverty varies greatly across the country but is highest among rural families who live in arid and semi-arid regions and depend exclusively on livestock and food crop production.

It is estimated that one third of Tanzanians live below the basic needs poverty line, and well below the international poverty line.

Healthcare in Tanzania

Doctor examines child in Tanzania

The health system in Tanzania has different levels of services. There are central hospitals, which are expensive as they are oriented to the international standards. They are meant to be referral centres, but fail to fulfill this function effectively. They are hindered by poor infrastructure, poor roads and weak communication with the remote regions.

There is a problem of unequal distribution of financial means. This explains many problems with general access to medical and health services in the country: 85% of health expenditure is given to the central and main hospitals. But these hospitals access only 10% of the population. 15% of the financial means fund healthcare for the remaining 90% of the population.

Source: Medical Mission Support

Disability in Tanzania

Poverty Disability Cycle

Throughout the developing world, people with disabilities generally have poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty. This is largely due to the barriers they face in their everyday lives, rather than their disability.

Disability is often misunderstood in Tanzania. Hearing impairment is often seen as lack of intellectual capacity. Blindness and physical impairment is seen as a curse sent by the gods.

Children with disabilities are often mistreated by other children. Some can’t walk the kilometres to and from school. Others can’t see the blackboard or hear the teacher. Classrooms are overcrowded and underfunded. Special supports are rarely available.

Many children with disabilities find the taunting too hard to take, so they drop out.

Parents with disabilities have a more difficult time securing employment, so the whole family falls into deeper poverty.

Boy with braces on his feet

In the world’s poorest communities, children born with disabilities are four times more likely to die than other children without disabilities in these same communities. – UN.org/disabilities

Only 2% of children with disabilities are ever given the opportunity to go to school — UN.org/disabilities

“When we correct/heal their disability (like club foot), we break the curse from the community. Respect, dignity, inclusion and acceptance is restored.” – Dr. Norgrove Penny (orthopaedic surgeon, former Hope and Healing International International Orthopaedic Advisor)

Rural lives in Tanzania

Across rural areas of Tanzania, houses are often traditionally built of stone or earthen construction, with roofs of thatch or corrugated iron.

The shape varies by region. On the shores of Lake Victoria, traditional houses are beehive-shaped. In other regions, they’re rectangular.

They’re usually surrounded by a smallholding or shamba, where families plant crops and keep livestock such as chickens or goats.

Source: SOS Children’s Villages

Tanzanian homestead

Traditional roles

Mother with child on back at watering hole

The majority of girls in Tanzania fail to complete secondary education with expectations that they will take on household duties or marry.

It is still common for women to take on the traditional role of looking after the house and home, while men go out to work. Women are also responsible for less physical tasks involved in the growing of crops on their smallholdings.

Although they take on much of the work, women are still considered to be lower down the social hierarchy than men.

But the place of women is changing slowly. Since 1996, a fifth of parliamentary seats must be taken by women and female cabinet ministers are becoming more common

SOS Children’s Villages

Regional variations

Influenced by the waves of immigrants from Asia and India, foods such as chapatis (fried flat bread), samosas (vegetable or meat-filled pastries), masala (spiced rice) and curries are popular, particularly in coastal towns and cities.

Tanzanians enjoy a wide range of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. Plantains or bananas are the most commonly-grown fruit/vegetable and are used in a number of dishes. One example is Ndizi Kaanga, made with butter, sugar and fried bananas.

Maize is the most common staple, with many meals based around ugali, a thick starchy mash made from cornmeal or cassava flour. This is served with a sauce or stew of vegetables, meat or fish. Rice is also a popular staple and often accompanied by fried foods or fish, especially along coastal areas.

SOS Children’s Villages

Tanzania meal - chapatis and curry