East African country has ample supply of fresh water, but the means to deliver it is broken down
(Rebecca Brown photo)
Children surround a well in a small community in Dar Es Salaam. A few feet behind them is a polluted drainage ditch.
Rebecca Brown, a resident of Somerville, is an Associate for Environmental Justice with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, an international human rights organization based in Cambridge. Traveling with UUSC Program Director and native Kenyan Atema Eclai, she visited Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to observe firsthand the water problems the country is facing and to see how UUSC’s grassroots partners there are dealing with them.
By Rebecca Brown
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- When we arrived here in Dar Es Salaam, the country's largest city and former capital, Atema and I visited the Kiganja Refu community. A young woman named Felista Kisangure led us to a family compound that was situated next to a manufacturing plant. She showed us the open drainage system where the manufacturing plant dumped its waste, including sulphur and other toxic chemicals, without treatment.
“We are really affected by toxic water because we have not had water services in our community since 1997, and because of this we have had to rely on the few wells that exist in the community,” said Felista.
“Some of these wells, however, are located only feet from this toxic drainage system and it is contaminating our water. We have many cases of cholera and malaria here.”
Our visit to Dar Es Salaam gave me my first glimpse of the impact of lack of access to water, which meant women walking long distances, often more than two miles to fetch it, sometimes victims of domestic violence if unable to find it; communities waiting all day near water taps in hope of one or two hours of water supply; and poor families spending huge percentages of their wages to buy bottled water when there is no alternative. This, sadly, is not unique. For many people in the world, this is their daily struggle for access to water.
Tanzania is like many countries around the world. Many cannot provide their citizens with even the minimal daily amounts to meet the needs for good health and sanitation. Our program partner, the Tanzania Gender Network Programme (TGNP), tells us that HIV/AIDS sufferers require huge amounts for adequate care, and that women often carry heavy loads of water over long distances at great risk to their safety.
The East Africa region has plentiful freshwater resources in Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world; Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world; and Lake Nyasa. However, Tanzania’s infrastructure to deliver the water to the citizens is a broken-down remnant of the colonial period.
In addition, says Gemma Akilimali, TGNP’s water campaign leader, “the government lacks the sufficient political will to improve the delivery system and make water affordable and accessible to the people.”
She said the municipal water service, DAWASA, formerly provided water to this area, which is in the middle of the city, but now the infrastructure cannot handle it. The government has not taken any steps to replace this infrastructure.
In 2003, under pressure from the World Bank, and some say in an effort to improve its water infrastructure, Tanzania privatized the water system in Dar Es Salaam, in exchange for much needed debt relief. The contract was awarded to a British water company named Biwater.
Within two years, the World Bank’s findings showed that under City Water Services, the Biwater subsidiary, the city’s water and sewage services had gotten so bad that in 2005, Tanzania took back control of water services. Biwater then sued for breach of contract . In January, a London tribunal threw out the case brought by Biwater against Tanzania and awarded Tanzania $7 million in damages and costs. This was a huge victory for Tanzania. They still await a decision from the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes within the World Bank.
Felista’s daily struggle to provide safe, accessible, affordable water for her family was similar to experiences described to us by others with whom we met.
The Tanzania Gender Networking Programme started working on a water campaign that called for safe, sufficient and affordable access to water for daily human needs, also known as the human right to water, in 2005 as a result of their research on HIV/AIDS. They found out that the average person with HIV/AIDS requires 100-200 gallons per day for their care.
“There are women in the Morogoro region who often walk seven hours to find water,” said Dr. Lucy S. Nkya, Tanzania’s deputy minister of Community Development, Gender, and Children. “This has a huge impact of communities dealing with HIV/AIDS. We have to educate people on how to advocate for themselves.”
On my last day in Tanzania, I took the fast ferry out to Zanzibar, an island of mythic proportions because of its unique mix of African, Arab and Indian cultures.
On the ride out there I sat next to a woman named Rahma Muhdhar, a linguistics professor at the University of Dar Es Salaam. She informed me that Zanzibar had been without water and electricity for four days. She theorized that this may be a result of recent rebel uprisings calling for independence of Zanzibar from Tanzania. She reasoned that the government believes if people are worried about providing for daily needs, they will not be involved in political organizing.
For more information about UUSC’s human right to water campaign, please visit http://www.uusc.org/programs/environment/index.html For more details about the water crisis in Tanzania, visit http://www.uusc.org/blog/2008/01/victory-for-human-right-to-water-in.html.