Let's think together: Every week the World Bank team in Tanzania wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a couple of questions. This post is also published in the Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen  every Sunday.
There is no doubt about the importance of water to human existence. People need clean water to survive and stay healthy. Lack of clean water contributes to the high mortality rates in children around the world. Water is also critical to a country’s development as it is needed not only for agricultural productivity but also for industrial production . Yet access to water remains a major challenge in many countries. Tanzania has been blessed, both on the surface and below ground, with three times more renewable water resources than Kenya and 37 per cent more than Uganda.
Despite the vast amounts of fresh water available, many Tanzanians are still faced with water shortages due to insufficient capacity to access and store it both in rural and urban areas. Few households have access to clean drinking water from a piped source. Only a small fraction of rural households can access water to irrigate their farms. The following statistics illustrate the magnitude of the problem:
- Access to water from a piped source all but stagnated over the past two decades. In 1991/92, 33.5 per cent of the population had such access; this figure was 33.1 per cent in 2010. Despite this, Tanzania is doing better than Uganda (15.3 per cent in 2006), at par with Kenya (34.3 per cent in 2008-09) but far behind Senegal (68.7 per cent in 2010);
- Urban areas witnessed a sharp deterioration in access to water from 77.8 per cent to 58.6 per cent. On the other hand, - rural areas experienced a slight improvement from 19.2 percent to 24.1 per cent during the same period;
- A large majority of rural households (more than 70 per cent) were more than 15 minutes away from their main water source in 2010;
- Only 3 per cent of total cultivated area in Tanzania was under irrigation in 2010.
Improving access to water requires a combination of actions on hard infrastructure and systems. There is need to build pipes, irrigation systems and pumps in both urban and rural areas. Fortunately, the Government has started to take action and has significantly increased public resources to the water sector, from Sh183 billion in 2007/8 to Sh575 billion in 2011/12. Maintenance of existing systems, however, has been neglected as well as the development of new delivery mechanisms, such as partnerships with private operators and communities. There is also a need to rethink the distribution of responsibilities between the central and local governments and to be clearer on who will pay for water use.
- Should water consumption be free in Tanzania? Should there be a ceiling per household that can be subsidized?
- Who should pay for water? Should different payment systems be implemented depending on what the water is used for? Should the profile of users matter?
- Can the Government alone close the infrastructure deficit in the water sector in Tanzania?
- Should Tanzania focus on providing water to urban or rural populations? Should it favour agriculture or domestic use?
- What should be the role of local governments in the provision of water? How about local communities, donors and private firms?
Note: The statistics are extracted from the Demographic and Health Surveys (1991/92, 2010), the National Panel Survey 2010/11, the CIA Factbook, and the Water and Sanitation Program 2011 report. All are publicly available.