Editor's' Note, June 2024

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: June 10, 2024

The region where I live was crippled by a beautiful but extremely destructive ice storm in March, a few days into spring (a seasonal designation that means nothing in Maine). We lost power for 45 hours, which was quite unpleasant since the “feels like” temperature outside hovered around 19 degrees. Less than two weeks later, we lost it again, for 25 hours, thanks to heavy snow and gusty winds. Back in December, it was knocked out for a couple days due to back-to-back storms that brought drenching rains and strong winds during a season that more typically brings blizzards and frigid cold snaps. Climate change is taking us for a ride this year!

Faced with no way to heat the air or water in our home, to cook or reheat food, to illuminate rooms after dark, or to charge phones that don’t get good cell service in our neighborhood anyway, we briefly saw how difficult life would be without reliable access to electricity.

For more than half of people in Tanzania, the sub-Saharan African country at the focus of this issue, living without electricity is the daily reality.

Tanzania is East Africa’s largest and most populous country, and is one of eight countries projected to make up over half of the world’s population growth through 2050. (The others are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.)

The World Bank released a new report in March about economic challenges and opportunities in Tanzania. That report was my inspiration to learn more about the current health, development, and environmental issues Tanzania faces and to present a case study of sorts demonstrating the urgency — for the well-being of Tanzanian people and the environment they rely upon for their survival and livelihoods — of pointing the country toward a lower population growth trajectory.

Currently, however, reproductive health challenges abound. Over a fifth of married women have an unmet need for family planning, and fertility is high, at 4.8 births per woman. One in 83 women will die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime.

High fertility and a young age structure currently cause the population to grow at 3% a year, implying a doubling time of only 23 years. A population twice today’s size in two dozen years would make extending electrification, water and sanitation, and other basic services to all Tanzanians difficult to impossible.

National governments and the donor community have a duty to ensure that women worldwide have the tools they need to make conscious childbearing decisions that are best for them and their families. Doing so will have countless external benefits for communities and countries through the effects of lower fertility and slower population growth.

Tanzania is home to Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, two of Africa’s best known places to see megafauna; Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak; and the Olduvai Gorge, the “Cradle of Mankind.” Tourism is a major source of the country’s GDP, and 2023 broke the record, with an estimated 1.8 million visitors, the highest share of them from the U.S. If you have been one of these tourists, or if you’re from Tanzania or have lived there, please write and share your experiences and observations. I’d love to include them among the next issue’s Letters to the Editor!