8 Mar 2012

The world is doing well on water supply, but leaving Tanzania behind

Globally, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water supply has been met. A new report from UN Water, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, launched this week, reported that 89% of the world's population now has access to water from an improved source. This has quite rightly been a cause for celebration and media coverage (see here and here from the (UK) Guardian, and from the BBC), a rare good news story.

But here in Tanzania, we can't share in the celebrations. The official UN estimates of access to clean and safe water in Tanzania, taken from the same new report that produced the MDG headlines, show that in Tanzania access has hardly changed since 1990, or even declined - see table and chart. 

Full data on Tanzania's water supplies from JMP report, 2012 (from www.wssinfo.org
Access to water from improved sources in Tanzania, 1990-2010 

This is not the time for another analysis of the problems facing Tanzania's water sector - this blog has already covered these issues extensively (see herehere and here for our most recent analyses). But this new, official UN data does give us an opportunity to compare access to clean and safe water in Tanzania with access in other countries. 

The first conclusion is an obvious one. If the MDG for water supply has been achieved globally and access is flat in Tanzania, it's clear that Tanzania is being left behind. Other countries are making good progress on providing their citizens with access to clean and safe water, while Tanzania is not. 

But as the media coverage of this new report has noted, most of the improvements in access have come in two countries with huge populations and rapid economic growth - China and India. So perhaps there are lots of other countries in the same situation as Tanzania? Perhaps if we look at Tanzania's neighbours, Tanzania's situation might not look so bad?

If only. The chart below shows nine East African countries. In 1990, Tanzania was behind only Burundi and Rwanda - two countries that get a lot of rainfall - in terms of access to clean and safe water. But by 2010, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Kenya had overtaken Tanzania, and only two countries - Mozambique and Ethiopia - were still worse off than Tanzania, and both catching up fast. So Tanzania is also falling behind its neighbours.

Access to water across East Africa

Let's look even wider, at the bottom end of the global water supply "league table". Tanzania still has nothing to be proud of. There are only 11 countries with worse access to clean and safe water than Tanzania. And if we look at the list of these countries, it consists largely of either failed / war-torn states like Somalia, Afghanistan and the DRC, or countries that are largely desert or semi-desert. There isn't any country on this list that has had Tanzania's advantages of rainfall, peace and stability (and donor support) over the past 20 years. 

The bottom of the global water supply league table

In other words, access to clean and safe water in Tanzania is worse than in any country that is neither water-scarce nor war-torn. If that's not a wake-up call, I don't know what is. 

Finally, a favour. I have been trying to find any coverage of this week's MDG announcement in the Tanzanian media, but have not seen anything. If you have seen anything on this, please let us know, either in the comments below, on twitter (@DarajaTz) or on our facebook page. (And if you have been following the media and haven't seen anything either, it would be great to know that we're not alone!)

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Further reading:

 - Thoughts from Tearfund and from WaterAid on the global MDG achievement
 - Some typically challenging thoughts from Ned Breslin on twitter (@NedBreslin)