22 Mar 2011

World Water Day: Three surprising facts about urban water supply in Tanzania

Today, March 22nd, is World Water Day. In Tanzania, a week-long event has been held in Mwanza to "observe" Maji Week, which ends today. Daraja has been represented there of course, along with civil society more generally through Tanzania's growing water sector network Tawasanet.

This year's theme is rather unwieldy:

Water for Cities: Responding to Urban Challenges with activities aiming to communicate messages on growing urban water and sanitation demand, increased pollution from municipal and industrial discharges, climate change and its foreseen risks and challengers, overexploitation of available water resources and better targeting of urban poor.
It's also outside our rural focus - Daraja can't claim the same level of expertise on urban water supply. But we're not going to let that stop us from making a few comments on the theme, covering three surprising facts about urban water supply in Tanzania.

Source: WaterAid Tanzania, 2005: Prospects for the Poor
First it's often assumed that the biggest challenge with urban water supply is finding enough water. But although that can be a challenge, issues of distribution and management are usually even more of a problem. A study of Dar es Salaam for example, though now a few years old, found that only 26% of water produced was reaching official household connections and public kiosks - see graphic - and only 8-16% of water produced was being paid for by customers. If 100% of supplied water was reaching households, there would have been enough water to serve the whole city's needs. That was back before the City Water experiment and the later introduction of DAWASCO, and Dar has grown a lot in the past few years, so the figures are no longer up to date. But the basic point that distribution and management of water matters at least as much as the quantity of water available still stands. 

Source: Afrobarometer surveys
Second, although it's often assumed that urban Tanzania is no worse off than other African cities, there is good evidence that this is not the case - that actually services in Dar are worse than they are elsewhere. Since data on access to clean and safe water in urban areas is notoriously unreliable, here we can look at public opinion surveys. These offer a better basis for comparisons, since customer satisfaction is a pretty good measure of how well a service is being provided. The Afrobarometer surveys compare public opinion across several African countries. Analysis of their data from 2005-6 finds that urban residents in Tanzania ranked water supply as a bigger problem than in any other surveyed country - see chart. 

And third, people often think that delivering water supplies to the wealthier parts of the city will bring more revenue to a utility. That's often not the case. The perhaps surprising truth is that the poor pay (far) more for water than the wealthy, both as a proportion of their income and even in absolute terms. If you're lucky enough to have a connection to the utility network you will be paying much less than people who have no choice but to buy water by the bucket from unregulated suppliers. As a result, utilities that can find a way of reaching poorer customers find that they become very good customers, delighted that they no longer have to pay nearly so much for their water. The reason the wealthy have more and better water supply connections is because they make more fuss when the pipes are dry or the water is dirty and they have the political influence that means they can't be ignored. 

So in summary:

  1. Distribution and management of water are at least as important as quantity
  2. Urban Tanzania rates water supply as a bigger problem than urban residents of other countries
  3. The poor pay more for their water and are better customers for utilities