Inhibiting information at the root of danger

23Jan 2016
The Guardian
Inhibiting information at the root of danger

For the past one month now various media outlets have been reporting on situations of extreme scarcity of food (famine) in some parts of Dodoma Region.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.

The reports caught attention of the public about two weeks ago when residents of certain areas of the region were discovered to have resorted to feed on stuffs that are not fit for human consumption.
As authorities scrambled to respond to the plight updated reports from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives affirm that parts of Kilimanjaro, Singida, Tabora, Mara, Mwanza, Simiyu and Geita regions also face similar problems.
In an attempt to allay public fears over the government’s readiness to deal with the problem, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa issued an assurance to the general public that no one will die of hunger.
He emphasized that the relevant authorities are now distributing relief food to all areas facing food shortages. If this is precisely the case, and will be sustainable then we may have nothing to worry about.
Much as we may trust the premier to intend to go every inch of the way in that assurance, it is important to take note that there are public leaders who deliberately hide information related to food shortages in their areas of administration for fear of either being reprimanded by superiors or purged for failure to deliver, that is underperformance.
It may be recalled that local government leaders were at some point in time warned that they would face administrative measures should famine occur within their areas of administration.
Since then information related to food shortages was being nipped in the bud so as not to reach the central government, while appeals are being made for food deliveries on the back of denials that there is actual famine. To an extent delivery has to await a food availability survey, a slow exercise that ministerial officials may not conduct in a hurry, to stretch out logistics and their advantages.
There is no doubt what has been reported in Dodoma about three weeks ago is likely to be a result of this kind of fear, and that is unhelpful and scarcely in the public interest.
Given the changing weather patterns, compounded with more durable effects of climate change, shortages of food in some areas may be unavoidable, since local agriculture, like elsewhere in the tropics, depends on unreliable rainfall.
If indeed the government wants to save inhabitants of various districts from threats of famine or starvation at any particular moment, local governments from the village level should be in the forefront of collecting information from their specific areas, not just hinder the media when it tries to do the job. This way they will be in a better position to react to any emergencies or shortages in the horizon to ask higher authorities to take action, rapidly enough.
Late last year Tanzania was among countries that volunteered relief food to the World Food Programme (WFP), sending a signal to the international community that the country was largely food sufficient.
The government should take note that hunger or famine reports or people feeding on environmental stuff that is unfit for human consumption especially in in Dodoma did indeed tarnish the country’s image before the local and international community.
Officials at the local, district and regional levels should take up their roles more effectively or otherwise a wait and see game shall see people collapse on the road, starve in villages unattended.