Water supply, water resource management, and sanitation feature prominently in Tanzania’s Development Vision, whose focus is on the war on poverty and the need to vastly improve the lot of our people by 2025.
The specific targets include equity of access, water management capacity and proper maintenance of water and sanitation systems, use of environmentally sound technologies as well as ensuring realistic and efficient water tariffs, billing and revenue collection mechanisms.
The water sector is among the priorities in the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty. However, despite its importance to human survival and development, water in the country is poorly distributed in time, space, quantity and quality, and it is such a finite and vulnerable resource that it has to be carefully managed and used.
Problems ravaging the water sector were highlighted when the Water ministry’s 2012/2013 Budget estimates were tabled in the National Assembly earlier this week. Most Members of Parliament who debated the estimates expressed bitterness over the erratic availability of the precious liquid in their localities.
The MPs’ major concern was that the situation translated into embarrassingly low standards of living for millions of Tanzanians and was a clear disincentive to Tanzanian and foreign investors alike.
With whole one-third of the country arid or semi-arid, the best way out is to exploit waters from perennial or near-perennial reservoirs such as lakes and rivers – which we are richly endowed with but which lie largely unused.
Millions of people then turn to surface water. But this is usually as contaminated as ground water, as people drink from, bathe in or wash clothes in the same sources of the precious liquid.
No wonder, water-borne illnesses such as malaria and cholera account for over half of the diseases affecting our people as quite huge numbers have no access to sanitary options.
Meanwhile, many people in rural areas spend several hours every passing day fetching water from the few sources available.
It is not surprising that studies carried out in poor households that lack safe, sufficient and affordable water in the country show increased rates of gender-based violence and the number of girls dropping out of school.
The government appreciates the desperate need for clean and safe water. In 1971 it instituted a 20-year Rural Water Supply Programme, which was meant to ensure access to adequate, safe, dependable water supply within 400 meters from each household.
In 1991, it came up with a National Water Policy, but with limited success. The water blues have thus defied a series of attempts to devise a lasting solution, including privatisation as was done some years ago by commissioning Britain’s Biwater to oversee the water distribution system.
The British company was a dismal flop and the government ultimately sued it for breach of contract, winning the case.
Hard as the government may be trying to fix the problem once and for all, this is a hard nut to crack – and it will take more than public resources and interventions to put things right. It is a national challenge we all need to meet as a joint force for the genuine success we yearn for to be achieved.