Prof Mkumbo: We’re trying to develop a national water ‘grid’

10Oct 2018
Mtapa Wilson
Financial Times
Prof Mkumbo: We’re trying to develop a national water ‘grid’

In this interview with Correspondent WILSON MTAPA, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water, PROF KITILA MKUMBO (pictured), sheds light on various issues related to the sector, including the state of financing from the World Bank in recent years and investment returns. Read on…

permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water, PROF KITILA MKUMBO.

QUESTION: What is the current status of water availability in Tanzania? Does it correspond with the targets to alleviate the problem? If not, why?

ANSWER: I can say that water availability in the country is reasonably satisfactory compared to our neighbours. Tanzania is fourth in terms of countries with large amounts of available fresh water. Here we are talking about per capital water available of around 1,800 cubic meters, where the total national population is around 54 million. This means that our water situation is not yet close to being stressed.

Nevertheless, water resources are decreasing compare to the increase in the population. If we go back some 50 years, the water per capital available in this country at that time was around 7,862 cubic meters, where the total national population was around 10.6 million.  So our water resources have declined substantially since then, which means that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that we are able to protect and develop our current water resources so that they are able to meet both present and future needs for many generations to come.

Q: How much has the World Bank invested in the water resource sector in recent years?

A: The World Bank is one of the substantial water sector investors in this country.  Right now, the bank is investing in water and sanitation systems for Dar es Salaam. It is also investing in water resources management within the Wami River Basin. Apart from this, we are also receiving support from the World Bank for water supply and sanitation.  For example, recently the government of Tanzania signed with the World Bank for a soft loan amounting to $350 million, which will be used to finance rural water supply and sanitation projects in 17 regions in the country. 

Q: Many water projects, notably those financed through the World Bank, have not given desired results. Why? And what is being done to address the shortcomings?

A: I don’t think so. Yes, there are some problematic water projects, but actually the majority of them are functioning. I think you are referring to the 10 water projects per district which were funded by the World Bank and implemented in 2016, but also even before that. 

A number of these water projects are functioning quite adequately, but of course we know that in this country, between 30 and 40 per cent of water projects that have been completed cannot be sustained because of poor sustainability management issues.  That is not just for the water projects funded by the World Bank, but the entire water resources sector.  

Q: We have Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who generate electricity and sell the same to TANESCO. Can a similar arrangement be introduced for water services?

A: That is what we are trying to promote - private sector participation in water resources sector development. We recently convene a forum where we met with our private sector partners and we are trying to interest them to take part in water resources sector development.  We are trying to show that there is also business in the water resources sector, just like in the electricity sector. And I think we are starting to see some interest from private sector. But overall private sector participation in water resources sector remains very low. 

Q: What should be done by the government to exploit large surface water bodies like Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika to reduce and ultimately end water poverty in Tanzania?

A: What we are doing now is actually to develop what we call a national water ‘grid’, similar to the national electricity grid that exists. The national water grid will be designed to take water from large surface water bodies like Lake Nyasa, Tanganyika and Victoria to areas that are deprived of water, like Dodoma, Singida, Tabora, and many others. 

That is in the pipeline.  We are trying to develop that one. But the complication is that most of our biggest surface water bodies are sharable. We share with other neighbouring countries. For example, in the case of Lake Victoria, Tanzania owns just 51 per cent. It is less for Lake Tanganyika, and even less for Lake Nyasa. Which means to use that water, we have to negotiate with our neighbours.  But we have effective trans-boundary water cooperation systems that will enable us to do that. 

So that is something that the government is doing and already we have a lot of water projects around Lake Victoria that are supplying water to various areas.   

Q: It seems that rural residents pay higher water supply tariffs than their urban counterparts. What should be done to make rural water supply as cheap/affordable as in urban areas?

A: I think that is partly true and partly not very true. Where the government has developed water projects in rural areas, the cost is not as high as where we don’t have any projects. But it is true that, on average, rural residents tend to pay higher tariffs than urban residents because the investment in rural areas is bigger and costs of running water project are higher - especially where there is no electricity. So what we are trying to do is, firstly, through the REA program, ensure that there is electricity in rural areas.  With electricity, the water tariffs will go down. More importantly, we are trying to connect rural areas with solar power. With solar power, the water tariffs will go down. Those are the measures being taken by the government.

Q: How can a water resource management system be designed in a way that is responsive to the needs of the poor and realistic and effective cost-wise?

A: I think that is what the government has in terms of planning.  We have what we call an ‘integrated water resources management and development plan”.  This is a participatory process involving communities and many other water sector stakeholders. Our water resources management framework is organized in a way that involves the local communities so that they are able to address their own needs around the areas where they live, but also be aware of the need to protect the water resources so that they continue to benefit themselves and future generations.

Recent studies have revealed that there are massive designing problems in many water projects, especially in the rural areas. What should be done to improve the efficacy of water project designing? Perhaps the use of the word ‘massive’ is a bit too much.  But yes, what we have done to address this problem is to create a water project designing unit within the ministry. This unit will be responsible for reviewing all major project designs before they are implemented.  This is the major step that we are taking.

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