Rural water supply access in Tanzania: why has it stagnated?

re-posted from:http://www.ircwash.org/blog/rural-water-supply-access-tanzania-why-has-it-stagnated

Despite massive investments in rural water supply in Tanzania, the number of people with access to improved water sources has not increased. This begs the question, what could be the reason for this stagnation?

This blog post is written by Lukas Kwezi and Catarina Fonseca 

Investments in rural water supply in Tanzania have increased significantly over the past decade. According to a 2015/16 water sector status report by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, about US$ 500 million has been spent on rural water supply since the start of the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) in 2006, with about one-third of total spending coming from government.

This increased spend has largely been due to the drive to accelerate delivery of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and political commitment to meet the Tanzania Development Vision 2025 through various initiatives such as the Big Results Now (BRN).

For every new person served with an improved water source, there are two new persons without access

The Tanzanian population has tripled from 12.3 million in 1967 to 44.9 million in 2012. In 2015, due to reduced mortality rates and persistently high fertility rate, the total population had grown to almost 50 million, with about 70% of this population living in rural areas. Despite massive urbanisation, rural population growth was three times higher than urban population growth during this period.

However, access to drinking water coverage has only increased by one percentage point from 45% in 1990 to 46% in 2015 (see Figure 1). This clearly indicates that the investments made in the sub-sector have only managed to keep pace with population growth rather than expanding access to new population.

Figure 1: WHO/UNICEF JMP, URT (2015 Update)
Figure 1: WHO/UNICEF JMP, URT (2015 Update)

Population growth offers opportunities for investments and economic growth, but many agree that the increase in population is putting a huge strain on provision of basic services and resources, especially water. Recent data from the World Bank shows that the average volume of renewable freshwater per capita per year in Tanzania has declined by 80% since independence (from 7,862 m3 in 1962 to 1,621 m3 in 2014), putting the country in the water-stressed category. Water resource challenges are going to increase with growing agricultural intensification combined with climate change in the coming years. These facts highlight the importance of formulating water sector strategies that address the needs of the current and future population.

Where did the money go?

Construction of new schemes has been prioritised over building effective systems for operation and maintenance. For example, recent analysis shows that during the period 2012-2015, 75% of the expenditure in the rural water subsector went to the construction of new infrastructures, while only 14% went to recurrent expenditure – mainly salaries and allowances at local government level. While focus on new construction is not necessarily wastage of resources, the bias towards new construction compromised a focus on maintaining old and existing schemes. We all know that ‘Old is Gold’, but old gold must be smelted and polished to maintain its value.

On the other hand, over 80% of schemes constructed were motorised schemes with average per capita costs of US$ 24-90, deviating from the envisioned 48% hand pumps during programme design. Although the costs compare reasonably well regionally, the change in technology, meant that the programme was able to reach only half of the target population. Besides, motorised schemes come with their own risks: they are often costly and complex to operate and maintain.

Sustainability challenge: it’s not the pipes, it’s the institutions and its people

Studies in Sub-Saharan Africa show that for local authorities to provide sustainable water services, they should spend between US$ 1-3 per person per year on direct support costs and US$1.5-7 per person per year on major maintenance. However, evidence shows that in Tanzania, local authorities spend only 6-10% of what they should spend to ensure sustainable services.

Local authorities often lack adequate funds for direct support. This means that they are unable to fulfil their administration, contract management, and operation and maintenance support functions, to ensure sustainability of water services, and prevent future problems. Also, when unexpected major maintenance occurs (e.g. renewal or replacement of a pump), local authorities and communities often do not have the resources.

Anecdotal evidence from different regions in the country shows that it may take between 3-6 months to negotiate and settle the costs of repairs. During this period, even if major repairs cost only US$ 100, people revert to using unimproved water sources. Studies estimate that about one-third of water points in Tanzania become non-functional after two years of operation, forcing people to return to using unprotected, unsafe sources, indicating low levels of sustainability of rural water services. The implication is that a significant number of people that may have already been provided with first time access fall back to using unimproved water sources.

Rough estimates show that 5.3 million people could be provided with improved water sources if the bulk of non-functional water points were made functional. If this trend is not reversed, reaching the bottom 40% is going to be even more difficult.

What needs to change?

The second phase of the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) began in July 2016, with the aim to provide access to clean, safe water to 85% of the rural population by 2020/21. The government estimates that about US$ 862 million would be required to finance the plan. This is a very ambitious target but achievable if sector stakeholders can adopt new approaches and ways of working beyond the narrow focus on new construction.

First, we need to shift incentives and accountability (at all levels of government, politicians, donors, private sector, local authorities and communities) from delivering water points to delivery of sustainable services. The government has now embarked on results-based financing approaches to rural water supply. However, the implementation should be accompanied by a change in mind-set of planners, politicians, engineers, donors and communities. They need to realise that in order to deliver quality services and achieve the desired outcomes, it is not enough just to create an infrastructure (school, health facility, water point). Equally, we also need to strengthen and invest in the institutional system that manages and maintains the infrastructure.

Secondly, we need to get better at monitoring results. This encompasses cultivating a culture of accurate and timely reporting; measuring and verification of whether results reported have been achieved or not, and ensuring information generated is used to inform planning, budgeting and decision-making processes. New technologies can really create a ‘data revolution’ that will allow government and citizens to monitor and continuously improve service provision – if it’s part of the governance and formal accountability mechanisms.

Thirdly, we need to broaden the approach and adopt alternative service delivery models; for example by considering self-supply as a complementary water service delivery model in areas which are difficult to reach. This would mean adopting a broader financing framework to rural water supply that goes beyond capital investments for community-managed water supply systems.

Lastly, the current water policy, which assumes that communities are able to cover full costs related to operation and maintenance of water infrastructures, needs to be reviewed, along with clarifying financial responsibilities and accountability by different parties for capital investments, minor maintenance, major maintenance and direct support costs.

Disclaimer: Lukas Kwezi currently works for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as Water and Sanitation Adviser, based in Dar es Salaam. He writes blog posts in his spare time. Though he may talk about the work he does in the sector, this is neither a corporate nor a political blog and the opinions and ideas expressed here are solely his own, not those of his employers. 

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