18 Mar 2010

Water Supply Challenges in #Tanzania are Political not Technical

Hi,

This week is Maji Week, an annual opportunity to focus wider attention on the water sector. It includes an exhibition of related organisations, this year in Kibaha, and the media typically use the opportunity to persuade many of these organisations to pay for articles and advertisements in special supplements.

But just a quick look at the exhibition stands reveal that the sector is still failing to recognise that delivering safe and clean water to people is a political issue at least as much as it is technical. On display are a range of drilling, pumping and purifying technologies, while hardly anybody is talking about the role of governance, politics and management.

Two examples demonstrate the importance of governance. First, in a survey of all rural waterpoints in over 50 districts (cited here - pdf), almost half (46%) of rural waterpoints were found not to be functioning. This means that almost half the money spent on engineering is effectively wasted. This is a governance challenge because it means the system that's supposed to make sure waterpoints are repaired when they stop working is failing.

The result? In the 2007 Household Budget Survey, only 40% of rural households were found to be drinking water from a clean and safe source. If even half the non-functional waterpoints were still working, access would be up around 60%, almost enough to meet the MKUKUTA and MDG targets.

My second example is even more obviously political. Research from TAWASANET (in which I was involved) found in both 2008 (pdf) and 2009 (pdf), districts were allocating new funds for rural water supply to communities that already have relatively good access to water supplies. Communities with no existing infrastructure were missing out again.


The research also looked into the reasons behind favouring some communities and overlooking others, looking at how particular planning decisions were made in practice and how particular communities failed or succeeded to access funds.

Mwakashanhala in Nzega district is the clearest example of what goes wrong. This ward of over 25,000 people had never received any water supply funding either from government, donors, NGOs or the private sector, until WaterAid started working there in 2008. The community was using a mix of dirty and distant sources for drinking water, and had regularly put water supply as their top priority for public investment. They should have been top of the list when new funds became available to the local council.

But they got nothing. Why? The research found the main reason to be that the ward was effectively invisible to decision makers - remote and inaccessible, well off any main road, with nobody advocating and protecting their interests at the district centre. In short, they lacked political influence.

The water sector is full of engineers, who of course have a very important role to play. But one result is that the sector spends a lot of time talking about technology and finance for engineering work, and very little looking at the political questions of how well these funds are targeted and hardware is maintained.

Ben