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United Republic of Tanzania

Geography, climate and population


The United Republic of Tanzania consists of the mainland and Zanzibar, which is made up of the islands Unguja and Pemba. Its total area is 947 300 kmē. The country is bordered in the north by Uganda, Lake Victoria and Kenya, in the east by the Indian Ocean, in the south by Mozambique and in the west by Lake Nyasa, Malawi, Zambia, Lake Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.

The terrain comprises plains along the coast, a plateau in the central area, and highlands in the north and south. The border with Kenya is dominated by Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. Southwards is the Central Plateau reaching elevations above 2 000 m. The mountain range of the Southern Highlands separates the Eastern plateau from the rest of the country.

Land cover is dominated by woodland, grassland and bushland which account for about 80 percent of the total area. Agricultural land is estimated to be about 40 million ha, or 42 percent of the total area. In 2013, 15.65 million ha or 17 percent of the country was cultivated, comprising 13.5 million ha of arable land and 2.15 million ha of permanent crops (Table 1).


The climate varies from tropical along the coast to temperate in the highlands. There are two types of seasonal rainfall distribution:

  • The unimodal type, where rainfall is usually from October/November to April, found in the central, southern and southwestern highlands;
  • The bimodal type, comprising two seasons: the short rains (Vuli) fall from October to December, while the long rains (Masika) fall from March to June. This type occurs in the coastal belt, the north-eastern highlands and the Lake Victoria Basin.

Annual rainfall varies from 500 mm to 1 000 mm over most of the country. The highest annual rainfall of 1 000 mm to 3 000 mm occurs in the northeast of the Lake Tanganyika basin and in the Southern Highlands. Mean annual rainfall is 1 071 mm. Zanzibar and the coastal areas are hot and humid and average daily temperatures are around 30°C. October-March is the hottest period. Sea breezes however temper the region’s climate and June-September is coolest with temperatures falling to 25°C. In the Kilimanjaro area, temperatures vary from 15°C in May-August to 22°C in December-March.


The total population of the country is estimated at 53.5 million in 2015, of which 69 percent is rural (Table 1). The annual population growth rate is 3.2 percent for the 2005-2015 period and the average population density is 56 inhabitants/kmē. The vast majority of the population lives inland, far away from the coastline.

In 2014, the Human Development Index ranks the United Republic of Tanzania 151 among 188 countries and the Gender Inequality Index ranks it 125 among 155 countries for which information is available (UNDP, 2016). Life expectancy in 2013 is 64 years and the under-five mortality in 2015 is 49 per 1000 births, both progressing from 49 years and almost 160 per 1000 in 1995. Around 84 percent of the children in 2013 are enrolled in primary education, but only 33 percent for secondary education. With only 3 point difference in both cases, the female proportion attending school is higher in primary school but lower in secondary school. Adult literacy is 79 percent in 2013, with a gap between female literacy (74 percent) and male literacy (84 percent). Poverty concerns in 2011 over a quarter of the population (28 percent) and is mainly a rural phenomenon (33 percent of rural population). However, urban poverty (16 percent of urban population) has accompanied rapid urbanization (WB, 2016). In 2015, 77 percent of the urban and 46 percent of the rural population were using improved drinking water sources, which is 56 percent of the total population. This represents a minimal improvement since 2002 when 55 percent of the population had access to an improved drinking water source. Yet, it is still better than the sanitation situation which finds in 2015 only 16 percent of the population with improved sanitation facilitation, and only 8 percent in rural areas against 31 percent in urban areas (JMP, 2015).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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