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A large proportion of Tanzanians still do not have access to improved water sources.

Community in Tanzania

A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and a survey by a local NGO (TWAWEZA), show that over 50 percent of people in rural areas of Tanzania do not have access to clean and safe water. Despite years of evidence of high levels of non-functionality, aid agencies and governments continue to spend a significant amount of money on creating new infrastructure.

In Tanzania, 75 percent of expenditure in the rural water sector in the past three years was on new infrastructure. The latest routine monitoring data from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MoWI) shows that an estimated 35% of water points (~37,000) in rural areas are not functioning. Most of these water points need minor repairs and if refurbished, they could provide water access to over five million people.

What are the drivers of rural water maintenance?  

For the past year, the UK Department for International Development in Tanzania (UKAID) and researchers from World Bank’s Impact Evaluation Team (DIME) of the Development Research Group have been supporting Government of Tanzania’s research agenda on improving rural water infrastructure sustainability. The first phase of the research (now completed) involved a combination of quantitative (77,000 water points in the national water point inventory were analysed) and qualitative formative research aimed at learning more about the actors involved, and constraints present in shifting local government towards a stronger focus on maintenance and support to communities to improve service levels. This blog highlights some of the interesting findings from this research.

The quantitative research reveals that the most important factors associated with rural maintenance and water point functionality are:

  • The district where the water point is located;
  • The water extraction method and,
  • The user fees arrangement.

Factors that have substantially less predictive power (but were found to have statistically significant relationships with functionality) include: who constructed the infrastructure, the year of construction, and density of water points.

A closer look at data points shows important interactions between some of these variables, highlighting the complexity and nuance of these relationships. For instance, water user fees were found to be much more important predictors of success for motorised systems than for hand pump or gravity systems. A motorised water point has a 78% chance of breaking down if there is no user payment arrangement, and this drops to 30% when a user payment arrangement is in place. In contrast, the presence of a payment agreement for hand pumps is associated with a reduction of functionality from 30% to 20% only.

These results suggest that rural water infrastructures that have a payment system in place, rely on simple technologies (manual pumping), and are located close to other water points, that have the highest chance of remaining functional.

The district where the water point is located is the single most important explanatory variable for water point functionality

This indicator encompasses a number of factors, from institutional arrangements to resource allocations and natural geographic variation. So, what makes a district successful in its maintenance efforts?

District level analysis shows that Tanzania has many successful districts, with some achieving 95% water point functionality rates. But there are an equal number of under-performing districts with functionality rates as low as 23%. Given the important role that a district plays in ensuring maintenance and water infrastructure sustainability, understanding what factors contribute to the good results are essential if we are to improve rural water supply services.

Some studies show that poor district performance in service delivery (including water supply) is caused by existing budgetary constraints, limited capacity and autonomy in decision-making at the district level. Surprisingly, this research shows that these factors have very little correlation with district-level maintenance and water point functionality rates. For instance, the number of skilled and unskilled staff, a district’s performance in other sectors (health and education), and the per capita budget for water have no positive influence on water point functionality.

It is important to note that there is no systematic research on what works for service delivery in Tanzania. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that a combination of funding availability with a certain level of autonomy, political will and leadership in a particular district or sector can have a positive impact on performance. These factors are often overlooked by water sector professionals when it comes to tackling challenges related to rural water service provision.

Politics influence the location, stock and characteristics of water supply infrastructure

The research found two striking results. First, the number and complexity of water points constructed increases closer to elections, indicating a possibility that the bulk of water infrastructure is being built for political gain. The second striking fact is that water points constructed in the run-up to elections are more likely to be motorised, and hence more likely to break down. This means that the changes in the electoral cycle not only influence the number but also the types of water points being built.

It is apparent that under the current competitive and fast-changing political environment, governments (both donor and recipient countries) are under pressure to demonstrate delivery of results committed in their manifesto. Consequently, policy and investment decisions have become focused on achieving quick wins in the short run by constructing new infrastructure to expand coverage, at the expense of building systems for managing infrastructure and improving service delivery.

How are the decisions about water infrastructure made at the district level and how do these affect sustainability?

To gain qualitative insights into sustainability challenges at the district level, the research applied a more in-depth anthropological review exploring decision-making within local government and identified three important constraining factors:

  1. lines of reporting and accountability are focused upwards, with district water teams being responsible for reporting to central government, at the expense of structures promoting a focus on communities (users);
  2. the ambiguous roles and responsibilities that the district water department and communities have with respect to water infrastructure maintenance results in a “passing of responsibilities” rather than the mutually complementary service delivery partnership envisaged by the decentralisation policy; and
  3. the broader political and cultural appeal of new infrastructure in Tanzania makes it difficult for civil servants in districts to advocate for more funds and resources from the central state, local government, and political leaders towards maintaining existing water infrastructure.

How do we shift incentives towards an increased focus on maintenance for sustainability?

While there is a clear need to continue with new investments (to expand coverage to many unserved communities), we, water professionals, need to understand the political economy around water infrastructure. We shouldn’t be shy to engage and work with policy makers and politicians and talk about the obscured focus on new infrastructure and work around existing constraints to introduce policy and programmes that ensure a focus on maintenance for long-term sustainability and service level improvement.

The Payment-by-Results (PbR) programme currently being implemented by local authorities in Tanzania is purposely designed to address these issues, through targeted, conditional and flexible funding to local governments aimed at shifting incentives away from new investments towards long-term maintenance of existing infrastructure. The research by DIME is part of the rigorous evaluation to generate learning as much as possible from the programme. The expectation is to use evidence generated from programme implementation to adopt and design interventions that would overcome some of the identified constraints to provide sustainable water supply in Tanzania. More importantly, a Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) network like TAWASANET can also use the evidence generated to influence policy and hold their politicians and districts accountable for the delivery of results.

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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