WDM in East Africa: reports from the World Social Forum and Tanzania

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Saturday 3 February

I’m just back from a visit to Tabata, one of the districts in Dar. I’m visiting a sub ward of about 14,000 people. In this area, drinking water comes from the piped network plus deep wells for those without a household connection. This is not one of Dar’s poorest areas, as some people do have household connections. I speak to some members of the local authority committee about their community to find out how their water services have changed over time, including over the period that City Water Services was in charge.

Says, Saidi Nassord Msamju, “Under CWS sometimes we only got water once every 2 or 3 months.” Adds Winfrida Ndibalema, “And even when it did come, it might only last 15 minutes as the pipes would be full of air and the water could not get through!”

Saidi Nassord Msamju: “As the local committee we sent a number of formal complaints to CWS, but to our dismay we did not get much of a response. We wrote maybe 3 letters and made 3 visits to the CWS office in Ilala because the situation was bad here; workers came to visit but nothing changed. At one point we were 3 months without water. In the end, Minister Lowassa (then water minister) came to visit us as the problem was so acute. After that, things improved for a while because of the political pressure, but then the problems came back. When CWS was around it was very difficult times.”

I explain that now CWS are taking legal action against the government of Tanzania for cancelling their contract. Saidi Nassord Msamju replies: “I am wondering why CWS are now suing us? They should compensate us as they did a bad job, rather than make a claim!” Winfrida says, “At least now under Dawasco, water comes far more regularly, maybe every 3 days or so.”

Finally, I ask about the infamous privatisation pop song, paid for by UK aid money - do they remember it at all? Saidi Nassord Msamju says, “I cannot sing the song myself but I can remember the message. It was meant to emphasise that public services are changing for the worse so we need to bring in private companies which would make changes, improve employment, provide better services. The main theme of the song was to uplift, but when CWS came, instead of services improving, services went down which was very disappointing.”

I’m coming to the end of my trip. Over the past week or more, I’ve spoken to lots of people and really learnt a huge amount about the water and sanitation problems facing Dar’s citizens. Clearly the challenges ahead are great. As the people in Tabata told me, sanitation has been forgotten and who of us from the UK would be content with receiving water once every 3 days? But the people in Tabata can remember when water was far less regular than this, and the people I spoke to were grateful for improvements under Dawasco. I really hope that Dawasco can turn things around for the people of Dar.


Thursday, 1 February 2007

Thursday 1 February

It rained for what was the first time in several weeks this morning. It absolutely poured down, leaving the streets of Dar awash with stagnant water, as the drainage system could not cope.

Anecdotally, people tell me that they can already see the impacts of climate change here, as well as in Kenya. Mathias Mulagwanda from People’s Voice for Development says that the snowcap on Kilimanjaro, which is just south of the Tanzanian border with Kenya, is dwindling and soon will just cover the very top of Africa’s hugest peak.

Mathias’ NGO works on community water projects in Dar. By helping communities drill boreholes, the cost of water can be reduced to maybe 20 shillings for 20 litres (still more expensive than piped water which might cost 6 shillings), but definitely a better option than the 200 shillings you might have to pay to private vendors (‘machingas’).

Overall Dar is a city of haves and have nots: for those of us who can afford it, we can drink bottled water, confident in the knowledge it is safe to drink. Everyone else must drink what they can get, with a lot of people collecting it in buckets from neighbours’ taps, from street stand pipes or from community wells.

The rain clears up and I spend a useful morning with TANGO – the Tanzanian Association of NGOs – and Mussa Billegeya. We discuss campaign plans for the coming months - there are several key dates which provide opportunities to raise the profile of water issues, including International Women’s Day and World Water Day, both in March. TANGO’s water campaign includes maybe 40 different NGOs across Tanzania. The collapse of the water privatisation in Dar and the subsequent legal action by Biwater has inadvertently served to mobilise groups in Tanzania and indeed across Africa.

Yesterday afternoon was spent sitting under the shade of huge leafy trees whilst attending a Gender and Development Seminar, which was hearing report-backs from the World Social Forum. Over 60 people are present to hear about the WSF and I am very pleased to present the formation of the African Water Network, which is greeted with a round of applause. These seminars are held every week and attract a variety of people from across Dar and beyond – women’s groups, youth groups and anyone else who is interested. The Tanzanian Gender Networking Programme hosts this seminar and I am really impressed by the event and the discussion that takes place.