Water betters lives in Tanzania

Access to clean water critical to NEPAD development goals
From Africa Renewal: 
page 14
With water taps nearby, villagers no longer have to walk so far to fetch water With water taps nearby, villagers no longer have to walk so far to fetch water.
Photograph: Reuters / Jiro Ose

No one in Lusala needs to walk more than 400 metres in search of water anymore. Fresh water gushes from taps at 11 drawing-points right within the Tanzanian community. For years, shortages sent women and children, the main collectors, several kilometres away each day. The drudgery was worsened by the hard-rock terrain they had to climb carrying heavy pots back to their hilltop village, located about 700 kilometres southwest of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital.

“Life is much better now that I have clean water near my house,” Elizabeth Mtweve, a villager and mother of four, told Africa Renewal. “I don’t walk all day in the heat to find water. In three to five minutes you fill your bucket by turning a tap. The water project has saved every woman in Lusala a lot of hardship and time.”

“My children, and even myself, used to fall sick because of dirty water,” she adds. “Now we don’t run to the hospital complaining of diarrhoea anymore. With clean water, we enjoy good health.”

Lusala’s estimated 4,000 inhabitants depend on farming for a livelihood, and their farm income partially funded the water scheme. People grow coffee and bananas to sell. Maize and beans are also popular, as both subsistence and cash crops. Villagers raise chickens, goats, small ruminants and some cattle. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) — which also funded the water project in Lusala — said lack of water made it hard for villagers to take care of their animals. Contaminated water also caused most of the village’s health problems, further deepening poverty in the community.

Villagers work together to build and maintain their water system Villagers work together to build and maintain their water system.
Photograph: Panos / Sum Ouma

Not difficult or expensive

Across Africa, cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other diseases kill thousands each year. African leaders, through their development blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), have identified water scarcity as one of the factors undermining the continent’s development. NEPAD provides an overarching framework for efforts to ensure that households, schools, farms, hospitals, industries and other important operations have enough water to meet their needs. African countries have agreed to bring safe, clean water to within no more than 15 minutes walking distance for their citizens.

African leaders, through NEPAD, have identified water scarcity as one of the factors undermining the continent’s development.

The Tanzanian government, with support from UNDP, responded to the water problems that plagued Lusala village. UNDP reports that the scheme uses gravity to tap water from a higher point, so that it naturally flows down through two intake pipes into a 75-cubic-metre reservoir. From there, it is distributed via ground pipes to 11 points where people simply turn on taps to fill their containers.

“Such water schemes are not difficult or too expensive to set up,” Nehemiah Murusuri, the UNDP country coordinator in Tanzania, told Africa Renewal. “You use the natural pull of gravity, so no complicated machines, no pumping is necessary. The maintenance is also very cheap and easy. Apart from the rare bursting of a pipe or replacing a loose tap, there is nothing much needed once you set it up.”

Bringing fresh water to Lusala, though not cheap, was not prohibitively expensive. The project, Mr. Murusuri noted, cost the equivalent of US$40,000 — a figure that would have likely quadrupled had private contractors implemented it. Instead, community members, with technical guidance from government water surveyors and engineers, built the reservoir, installed pipes and provided all the necessary labour.

Every family in Lusala was allocated a portion of a 9.4 kilometre trench that needed to be dug in order for the pipes to be installed, explains Dominicus Mganwa, chairperson of the Lusala Development Association, which was formed by villagers to organize their participation in the scheme. The association is today responsible for collecting water fees from users. The money is used to repair equipment when needed.

Coming together

“Working together, problems came up here and there,” Mr. Mganwa notes. This was particularly the case when “trying to decide what we wanted and who was responsible for what. But in the end we learned to resolve our differences. This has benefited the whole community.”

“We are not only putting a water project in place, but also contributing to NEPAD and the Millennium Development Goals to improve water, governance and health and to reduce poverty.”

—Nehemiah Murusuri, UNDP Tanzania country coordinator

The availability of clean water, he continues, has changed the village in unexpected ways. “Since water is nearby, people have started small brick projects, so now you see good quality houses, all over Lusala, replacing mud and pole huts. This we did not expect, but we are very pleased.”

Two years after the completion of the water project, Mr. Murusuri of UNDP says, the benefits have indeed been multifaceted and have helped make progress towards the goals set by African leaders in other areas. “We are not only putting a water project in place, but also contributing to NEPAD and the Millennium Development Goals to improve water, governance and health and to reduce poverty. People learned to reach agreements through democratic means. Hospital records show a significant drop in the number of people reporting waterborne diseases. Women have more time to focus on income-generating activities.”

Such water projects can be replicated easily in other villages, notes Bedoumra Kordje, director of the Africa Water Facilities at the African Development Bank. There are many successful initiatives to supply safe water for domestic and industrial needs, he told Africa Renewal. But efforts fall short of what is needed to promote lasting socioeconomic development.

“There is no question that the availability of fresh water is one of the most critical factors in development,” says Mr. Kordje. “Yet Africa enjoys only about 3 per cent of its annual renewable water supply, compared to over 80 per cent in the United States.” African countries, he adds, need to improve storage and distribution to help the estimated 300 million people who do not yet have access to clean water.

“We must ensure water is available,” says Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. “You can do anything you want to improve the infrastructure, but if there is no water, then it amounts to zero work.” The government aims to bring clean safe water to within 400 metres of every Tanzanian household by 2015. For Lusala village, thankfully, that is no longer another goal waiting to happen.