local shortages global reality

A long, multicoloured line of containers from jerrycans to four-litre plastic jugs snaked down the street. The first were tucked up against a fuel pump at a petrol station.

A long, multicoloured line of containers from jerrycans to four-litre plastic jugs snaked down the street. The first were tucked up against a fuel pump at a petrol station.

Rumours had it that the oil tanker seen at anchor outside the harbour of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, held the kerosene needed to fuel home cookstoves. Nobody knew when it would finally dock and begin to unload. Locals went about their business knowing that neighbours would respect their containers’ queued positions.

A basic rule of thumb from my time in this East African country on the Indian Ocean was that if you saw a lineup of folks outside a shop, join it. Some scarce item, maybe a basic like soap or toilet paper, had probably just arrived. While you might not need the two bars or rolls available to you, somebody you knew surely would.

A quick scan of recent Tanzania Daily News articles told me that my experience from three decades ago still captures the daily reality there. Another fuel shortage in late April saw thousands queuing again. One African commentator noted, “Cyclists commonly known as ‘boda boda’ complained that some greedy people buy the fuel in bulk and hoard it to sell later at much higher price.”

Critical shortages of food and water in Tanzania, though, present the most serious challenge in this country where the basic life expectancy hovers around only 53 years of age. This is a full 29 years shorter than the Canadian average.

In a Tanzania Daily News e-clipping from the day before yesterday, the Deputy Minister for Water, Dr. Binilith Mahenge, is reported to have told the National Assembly that people in the Katavi Region “are facing severe shortage of clean and safe water.” He stated that of the “79,667 residents, only 19,317 people or 24 per cent have access to clean and safe water.”

Like life in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzanians, mainly women and children, can be expected “to walk many hours to fetch water that is not even considered safe to drink.

“Lack of clean water is a significant problem in Tanzania. Collecting water can take up to five hours a day. Some rural women carry as much as 18 kilograms on their heads as they walk 10 kilometres or more each way, to and from the water source.”

Economic production in Tanzania is “80 per cent agricultural” according to another Tanzania Daily News item. “Most of the land is arable but many people do not have enough to eat.” A Reuters news item yesterday reported that “Tanzania has trimmed its economic growth forecast for 2012 due to a prolonged drought and chronic energy shortages.”

The Rio+20, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, beginning next week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will surely point to the rising probability of disruptions of all kinds, which will be directly attributable to climate change. Any impacts will undoubtedly be felt most by the world’s poorest like rural villagers in Tanzania. However, we here in the Yukon and across Canada won’t be spared. Maybe this past week’s temporary shortages Whitehorse can serve as an indication of what is to come.

When other voices, like insurance companies such as Intact Financial Corporation, the largest provider of property and casualty insurance in the country, begin to seriously seek to take into consideration the coming consequences of climate change, shouldn’t the rest of us?

Intact Financial Corporation and the University of Waterloo have a joint research project that “will identify the most appropriate initiatives and action plans that governments, businesses and civil society could undertake to better adapt to the potential impacts and consequences of climate change on Canada’s ecological systems, its social fabric and the economy” according to their press release.

Professor Blair Feltmate of Waterloo’s faculty of environment gave their rationale for this: “Given the inevitability of climate change, it is critical for Canada to identify priority actions that need to be taken to limit and adapt appropriately for potential impacts.”

Do our leaders recognize these challenges? Do we?

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.