Water project changes lives in Tanzania

No one in Lusala needs to walk more than 400m in search of water any more. Fresh water gushes from taps at 11 drawing points right within the Tanzanian community.

For years, shortages sent women and children, the main collectors, several kilometres away each day.
The drudgery was worsened by the rocky terrain they had to climb carrying heavy pots back to their hilltop village, located about 700km south-west of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital.

“Life is much better now that I have clean water near my house,” says Elizabeth Mtweve, a villager and mother of four. “I don’t walk all day in the heat to find water. In three to five minutes you fill your bucket by turning a tap. The water project has saved every woman in Lusala a lot of hardship and time.”

She adds: “My children, and even myself, used to fall sick because of dirty water. Now we don’t run to the hospital complaining of diarrhoea any more. With clean water, we enjoy good health.”

Lusala’s estimated 4 000 inhabitants depend on farming for a livelihood, and their farm income partially funded the water scheme. People grow coffee and bananas to sell. Maize and beans are also popular, as both subsistence and cash crops. Villagers raise chickens, goats, small ruminants and some cattle.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)—which also funded the water project in Lusala—said lack of water made it hard for villagers to take care of their animals. Contaminated water also caused most of the village’s health problems, further deepening poverty in the community.

Not difficult or expensive

Across Africa, cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other diseases kill thousands each year. African leaders, through their development blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), have identified water scarcity as one of the factors undermining the continent’s development.

Nepad provides an overarching framework for efforts to ensure that households, schools, farms, hospitals, industries and other important operations have enough water to meet their needs. African countries have agreed to bring safe, clean water to within no more than 15 minutes’ walking distance for their citizens.

The Tanzanian government, with support from the UNDP, responded to the water problems that plagued Lusala village. The UNDP reports that the scheme uses gravity to tap water from a higher point, so that it naturally flows down through two intake pipes into a 75-cubic-metre reservoir. From there, it is distributed via ground pipes to 11 points where people simply turn on taps to fill their containers.

“Such water schemes are not difficult or too expensive to set up,” says Nehemiah Murusuri, the UNDP country coordinator in Tanzania. “You use the natural pull of gravity, so no complicated machines, no pumping is necessary. The maintenance is also very cheap and easy. Apart from the rare bursting of a pipe or replacing a loose tap, there is nothing much needed once you set it up.”

Bringing fresh water to Lusala, though not cheap, was not prohibitively expensive. The project, Murusuri notes, cost the equivalent of $40 000—a figure that would have likely quadrupled had private contractors implemented it. Instead, community members, with technical guidance from government water surveyors and engineers, built the reservoir, installed pipes and provided all the necessary labour.

Every family in Lusala was allocated a portion of a 9,4km trench that needed to be dug in order for the pipes to be installed, explains Dominicus Mganwa, chairperson of the Lusala Development Association, which was formed by villagers to organise their participation in the scheme. The association is today responsible for collecting water fees from users. The money is used to repair equipment when needed.

Coming together

“Working together, problems came up here and there,” Mganwa notes. This was particularly the case when “trying to decide what we wanted and who was responsible for what. But in the end we learned to resolve our differences. This has benefited the whole community.”

The availability of clean water, he continues, has changed the village in unexpected ways. “Since water is nearby, people have started small brick projects, so now you see good quality houses, all over Lusala, replacing mud and pole huts. This we did not expect, but we are very pleased.”

Two years after the completion of the water project, Murusuri of the UNDP says, the benefits have indeed been multifaceted and have helped make progress towards the goals set by African leaders in other areas.

“We are not only putting a water project in place, but also contributing to Nepad and the Millennium Development Goals to improve water, governance and health and to reduce poverty. People learned to reach agreements through democratic means. Hospital records show a significant drop in the number of people reporting waterborne diseases. Women have more time to focus on income-generating activities.”

Such water projects can be replicated easily in other villages, notes Bedoumra Kordje, director of the Africa Water Facilities at the African Development Bank. There are many successful initiatives to supply safe water for domestic and industrial needs, he says, but efforts fall short of what is needed to promote lasting socioeconomic development.

“There is no question that the availability of fresh water is one of the most critical factors in development,” says Kordje. “Yet Africa enjoys only about 3% of its annual renewable water supply, compared to over 80% in the United States.” African countries, he adds, need to improve storage and distribution to help the estimated 300-million people who do not yet have access to clean water.

“We must ensure water is available,” says Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. “You can do anything you want to improve the infrastructure, but if there is no water, then it amounts to zero work.”

The government aims to bring clean safe water to within 400m of every Tanzanian household by 2015. For Lusala village, thankfully, that is no longer another goal waiting to happen.

Reprinted from UN Africa Renewal

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