Tanzania: Zanzibar Sees a Slight Decline in Poverty Except for Pemba

press release

Dar es Salaam — Zanzibar saw a modest reduction of 4.5 percent in its basic needs poverty rate, and a one percent decrease in extreme poverty between 2010 and 2015, with its more urban, Unguja island the main driver behind this, according to the latest World Bank Poverty Assessment for Zanzibar.

The Zanzibar archipelago consists of several islands with a total population of about 1.3 million. Unguja, the largest, has a population of about 900,000, followed by Pemba with over 400,000 people, according to the 2012 census. With the main urban areas, Unguja registered the steepest drop of, from 26 percent in 2010 to 18.4 percent in 2015. This downward trend was only reflected in other urban centers in Unguja, and in rural areas, too, with a decline of 11 percent for the former and 3 percent in the latter.

"The contribution made by the educational levels of household heads and their spouses to the reduction of poverty in Unguja is significant, showing the importance of strong investment in human capital," said Bella Bird, the World Bank Country Director for Tanzania, Malawi, Somalia, and Burundi. "The negative trend for Pemba highlights an urgent need to address the wider issue of regional inequality through more equitable access to basic services."

The new World Bank assessment of data from the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar's Household Budget Survey (HBS) and Integrated Labor Force Survey (ILFS) says the basic needs poverty rate stood at 30.4 percent in 2015 when the assessment was conducted, compared to 34.9 percent in 2010. In Pemba, it shows that the poverty rate increased from 48 percent to 55 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Eighty-three percent of Pemba's population resides in rural areas, suggesting that the underdevelopment of the island's urban sector was the main factor for the increase.

The report, launched today in Unguja's historic Stone Town, shows that poverty reduction in Unguja was caused by increased returns to household businesses; improved productivity in the non-farm sector and in agriculture, too; and improvements in the levels of education attained by heads of household and their spouses. While larger families were a constraint, the burden of them appeared to have been offset when spouses were engaged in non-farm activities for which they got a return. Improvements in the ownership of assets, particularly mobile phones, also contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in welfare.

The report's authors say unemployment of educated youth in these areas remained very high, however. This discrepancy could be related to the quality of education in Zanzibar, which has been declining with the substantial expansion of the education system, similar to trends witnessed on the Tanzanian mainland and elsewhere in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. (In contrast, the better returns on education focused on household heads, who were likely to be older and to have received a better education.

"There is a lot of work ahead to improve the living standards of all people in Zanzibar," said Carolina Sanchez, Senior Director for Poverty and Equity at the World Bank. "The report released today can form the foundation for more effective development programs to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, especially those whose situation has worsened in recent years."

The assessment shows improvements in household living conditions but a large part of the population clustered around the poverty line that could easily fall back into poverty. Conversely, small increases in their incomes could propel a significant proportion of people above the poverty line.

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