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It’s slow going for businesses aiming to tackle Tanzania’s water problems

 
Access to Water in Tanzania

Over one third of Tanzania is semi-arid. With few rivers and diminishing levels of clean groundwater, 48% of its citizens lack access to safe water. Photograph: Xan Rice

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “It’s slow going for businesses aiming to tackle Tanzania’s water problems” was written by Oliver Balch, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 8th July 2014 06.00 UTC

Tanzania’s water problems are only too obvious. Over one third of East Africa’s largest country is semi-arid. With few rivers and diminishing levels of clean groundwater, 48% of its 45 million citizens lack access to safe water. The consequent productivity losses, health costs and premature deaths (an estimated 26,000 Tanzanians die of diarrhoeal disease every year) are put at £206m – around 1% of the country’s total GDP.

Less obvious is what can be done about it. It’s not that Tanzania has ignored the problem. The country undertook a major reform of its water sector in 2002 and currently boasts a comprehensive strategy aimed at delivering universal access to safe water by 2025.

The 2002 reforms opened the door to greater involvement of the private sector in the day-to-day business of water delivery. A host of new local utilities have cropped up as a result. Tanzania’s water sector has also become the focus of foreign donor support. German state aid agency GIZ, for example, recently helped with the setting up of an independent regulator for the water sector.

Private sector partnerships

A number of innovative cross-sector partnerships are also emerging that might provide Tanzania’s policy makers with inspiration. German utility Hamburg Wasser, for instance, is currently working with the country’s water and sanitation authorities to improve water infrastructure and services in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city.

Private sector involvement isn’t just restricted to water companies however. Swedish retailer H&M, for instance, has just embarked on a £811,000 project with UK charity WaterAid. The three-year programme aims to improve water provision and sanitation facilities in 36 schools in the rural Manyara district. As well as immediate assistance, H&M hopes the intervention will influence government thinking about water-related issues in schools.

In a separate initiative, WaterAid is also helping to establish a for-profit model for resolving sewerage problems. The project, which operates in Dar Es Salaam, sees small enterprises remove human waste from pit latrines in exchange for a small fee.

“So far there are five community based organisations that have started the programme and we have seen a success in terms of the reduction in diseases and the urban poor being able to access sanitation services”, says Christina Chacha, spokesperson for WaterAid in Tanzania.

WaterAid offers local entrepreneurs loan finance to buy the equipment required for collecting and disposing of the latrine waste. The charity also operates a revolving fund that can be used as collateral for loans from participating local finance providers, such as the Kenya Commercial Bank.

“If the private sector thinks it can make money from this … then, if we should ever decide to leave, then this service can still be sustainable and the urban poor can still access sanitation services”, says Chacha.

Water stewardship

Tanzania is also a pilot country for so-called water stewardship approaches that involve the wider business community. A high-profile champion of the approach is the Water Futures Partnership (WFP), a cross-sector alliance that counts GIZ, environmental charity WWF and global brewer SAB Miller among its founding members.

“Companies are seeing that they are beginning to face complex water risks that they can’t manage on site, like groundwater pollution across the city affecting many businesses and communities”, says Robin Farrington, a water stewardship adviser at GIZ.

An illustrative case in point is the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a vital food-growing region. A substantial coalition of government agencies, charities and corporations, including brands such as Nestlé, Olam and Bayer, is working to promote a more sustainable approach to farming in the area. Among other interventions, the SAGCOT alliance plans to implement eight major irrigation schemes across the area’s three principal water basins.

 

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