On the 13th of May the Government terminated its contract with City Water Services for the management of Dar es Salaam’s water supply. The contract, in which the British firm Biwater was involved, was terminated on the grounds that the firm had failed to deliver services as per the contract. City Water claimed that the original bid documents were misleading and inaccurate. For detailed background see Tanzanian Affairs No. 80.
Dr. Brian Mathew looks here at the issues that now face the body – DAWASCO – which has taken over responsibity for water supplies and offers a four-part solution.
The problems of Dar es Salaam’s water supply are in many ways similar to problems of urban water supply systems across Africa. Systems installed largely in the 1950’s and 60’s now are not only suffering from under maintenance and old age, but also the challenge of supplying water to populations vastly larger than they were originally set up to serve.
The overall figures for Dar es Salaam, a city of 3.5 million people, give an idea of the problem. 281 million litres is pumped into the system every day, while the estimated total demand is 400 million litres per day. Of the 281 million litres that are pumped as little as 16% is delivered to paying customers, the rest is lost to illegal connections and leakages. The solution often adopted by water companies of concentrating, first on cutting off non payers and illegal connections, and secondly installing water meters for those that do have registered and paid for pipe connections, has unseen consequences for the vast majority of the population that have to rely on water vendors, or walking to buy their water. These consequences are economic and social, are of great importance to ordinary people and follow the predicable laws of supply and demand. Where water meters are fitted, for example, the householder with a water connection suddenly becomes much more aware of the cost of the water he or she is receiving and then selling on. The tap owner, if he is to continue supplying water to his neighbours, has to monitor the use of his tap to match its use with income if he is to avoid his water bill going through the roof. As a result he often stops selling water; it is simply too much bother to keep an eye on the tap all day especially if you have a job; it is easier to lock the tap up and refuse water to those who come rather than risk making a loss. The consequences, for the 75+% of the population who depend for their water on informal arrangements such as these is real hardship. With further to travel to find water the price also goes up for both vendors and end users.
The solution of privatisation for city water supplies, favoured by donors as a free market approach to urban development, can make the situation worse, especially when efforts made for short term financial prudence come into conflict with the bigger needs of a thirsty and growing urban population. So what is the solution?
In the first place, more water is needed for the system as a whole. This means both improvements to the pumping and treatment works, but also a new pumping main. The current main pipes are beset with problems of illegal connections and leakage and a new main, without any take offs until it reaches the distribution network, would go a long way to securing a better water supply for Dar es Salaam, along with a better leak detection and repair system. All this will mean higher levels of investment are required, but with the poorest often paying up to ten times more per litre for their water than those with house connections, surely it will be an investment worth making.
Secondly, enforcement of by-laws to protect water installations and pipes from illegal connections is needed. It has been pointed out in the past that it is often the water workers themselves who have installed many of the illegal connections with bribes from wealthier individuals. The creation of the new company DAWASCO is the ideal opportunity for senior management to point out to all involved, that national pride and the welfare of the people is on the line, that previous dubious and corrupt practices will no longer be allowed. A reward system could be introduced to assist virtuous workers and to ‘name and shame’ their corrupt colleagues. Pride and dignity in the water company should be an enduring goal of management, with uniforms provided on a regular basis and company sports teams supported to build and keep up morale.
Thirdly, lessons learned by NGO-supported community water supply initiatives need to be ‘scaled up’ to assist those un-served communities that can help themselves in partnership with DAWASCO. Community management of water supplies, long proven to work in some rural areas of Tanzania, have, since 1997, been a feature of some parts of Dar es Salaam and the lessons are there for the learning. This had been a small element of the original DAWASA proposal, and urgent thought now needs to be given to scale up this initiative to make a more meaningful impact on the situation. Transparently operated water kiosks, with dedicated water supply mains and with community input in their management, are needed urgently in areas where the majority cannot afford individual house connections. These should be a priority for the new company and NGO expertise could be used to help set these up along with the possible use of mechanical water vending machines.
Fourthly, transparent management of the whole pipe network is needed and this will eventually have to include control measures, such as the use of water meters to link billing to water use, as well as robust systems for the disconnection of those who won’t pay their bills or use illegal connections. Elements of control should be seen as only a part of the overall solution however and not the main focus. ‘DAWASCO getting the water to the people’ should be the rallying cry!
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