For rural Tanzanians, water has a social value too

by Lena Farré, recent Post-Graduate from University of Basel, Switzerland, summarises the findings of her Masters degree thesis

This exploratory case study carried out in the Kilombero Valley in southwestern Tanzania shows the mechanisms and challenges communities of a rural village face while seeking water access and maintaining their water pumps. The Tanzanian Government and non-governmental organizations follow a Demand Responsive Approach (DRA). According to the water source providers, communities should demand, own, and maintain their water sources as well as contribute to implementing costs in cash or labour. This participatory approach has been criticised to shift the states responsibility to provide water service towards the community level. To design better policies for interventions that will ensure a sustainable and equitable water provision, it is necessary to understand how communities themselves perceive and deal with this implemented community management system. Here, three key findings are presented, which must be taken stronger into consideration when formulating recommendations for practitioners, since they have been found in other case studies as well.

1.      Women bear the most time and physical strength consuming tasks

While men mostly get the leading position within a water source committee, the role of the secretary or treasurer is mainly given to women. Women are responsible for the house-to-house monthly fee collection from the families using the water sources. Most social conflicts between the committees and the water source users are linked to the monetary contribution. This results in women being directly exposed to these conflicts and therefore less willing to participate actively in the committees.

2.      Mutual mistrust and low transparency

The vulnerable livelihood of the community makes water source users and committee member mistrust each other concerning the payment or safe guarding of the maintenance fees. The need for a sudden financial resource, was mentioned as a reason why water source users doubted that committee members put the entire collected amount of cash onto a bank account. Furthermore, the ability of the committees to control and record the payments of the water source users are restricted due to different reasons: A lack of administrative and accounting skills and remoteness of widely dispersed settlements challenges communication flows. The organization of meetings between water source committees and water users is therefore also difficult. This low transparency fuels mutual mistrust.

3.       Social mechanisms to equalize water access exists

Sanctions such as imposed fines or denied access are assumed to push users to pay their monthly fees. However, they were rarely applied. The committee members often grant exemptions after evaluating the socio-economic situations of the water users. Conflicts between the committees and the users occurred if a household is assumed to be able to pay but refuses it. Private water sources within the community caused conflicts as well. Households who purchased a private one feel under pressure to share it with their neighbours. The system of sanctioning community members for not contributing the payment fees or getting a private water source correspond to market rules. However, water is perceived as a free good by many people. Hence, denying water access to a fellow member of the community transgresses cultural norms and behaviour. Sharing water and preventing someone from getting a private water source, are social mechanisms to equalize water access on the village level.

Behaviour based on the social value of water need to be acknowledged

If a sustainable water source management shall be achieved – community mechanisms have to be understood and acknowledged. Sharing water, conflict avoidance and other behaviour which equalizes access amongst the community members can be seen as obstacles towards the community management of water sources within a Demand Responsive Approach. However, it is suggested to evaluate these social structures positively, allowing the poorest of the community to access water. The government’s responsibility to provide water access and to accomplish the Human Right to Water for its citizens should nevertheless not be denied.

The study showed that the potential of collectively managing water sources based on a barely existing consumer culture must be questioned. Additionally, it is recommended to focus more on the understanding of the social values that water has within a rural community. How they look like in more detail within a rural, Tanzanian community is presented in the study.

CM_in_Tanzania

Download the Thesis report from the RWSN website

Have you recent done research on rural water supply and would like it featured through RWSN? Contact the Secretariat for details.

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