11 Nov 2009

Keeping rural water supplies functioning

There's some pretty shocking data around on how many (or rather how few) rural waterpoints in Tanzania are working. The best available data, from waterpoint mapping surveys by WaterAid and other NGOs, finds that almost half (46%) of rural waterpoints are not working. Roughly, that means the same number of people that do currently have access to improved water supplies (around 8m) are lacking access because of a broken down waterpoint. Fixing that would more than meet the Millennium Development Target for rural water supply in Tanzania.

So why are so many waterpoints not working? Well, the most common reason is that a technical problem remains unsolved because of poor management. For example, a waterpoint breaks down and is left un-repaired because the person who was supposed to be collecting money from the community while the water was flowing didn't do so, or they did collect money but it has been used for something else, or even simply stolen.

So making sure waterpoints are well managed while they are functioning goes a long way towards making sure funds are available for repairs when needed. That's a community-level issue, since communties are themselves responsible for managing their water supplies.

This is often used by local governments as an excuse to explain why broken waterpoints are not repaired. But there's also a lot that local government can do to help, much of which is not happenning at the moment.

For example, local government can play a stronger preventive role: making sure good community management systems are set up and that problems with collection and safekeeping of money are spotted and solved early. This is often overlooked when big engineering works are going on that attract all the attention.

And when a problem does occur, local government can help ensure it's solved quickly: helping communities to access spare parts and technical expertise and mobilising funds for more major repair works. These responsibilities are rarely taken seriously by local government, but a big improvement in rural water supply could be made simply by local government being more responsive when problems occur.

Daraja will create opportunities for citizens to bring water supply problems quickly to the attention of local government officials, via mobile phone networks. And we will work with media partners to put some pressure on them to respond quickly and effectively to keep the water flowing.
Watch this space to see how we get on.