Strengthening Tanzanian systems to reach more people with water, sanitation and hygiene

5 min read

To reach everyone we need huge shifts in investment and political priority. But small changes in planning and implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene services can make a big difference to service quality and change lives. Priya Sippy and Nicas Petro share what Tanzanian participants learned from a sustainable water and sanitation training programme.

When thinking of improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the most marginalised communities, what comes to mind is often building new taps and toilets. But what about observing the ways that we work, and the ways our partners – such as local Government, utility companies and development partners – work? Can individual and organisational changes there also impact on progress towards SDG6? 
In 2016, WaterAid Tanzania began working with Niras and WaterAid Sweden on the International Training Programme (ITP) Sustainable Urban Water and Sanitation (SUWAS) initiative. The programme, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), uses the power of knowledge sharing and capacity building to improve the planning and implementation of urban WASH services. It aims not simply to reach more people, but to do so sustainably and equitably.

Identifying the challenges

The first SUWAS Training Programme began in 2016. It now covers five African countries – Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.

Six participants from Tanzania enrolled in the class ITP SUWAS Africa, each participant focusing on a change project, looking at the challenges they face in their organisation that hold back progress on access to WASH. The participants included the Regional Health Officer and the Regional Water Engineer from Manyara Regional Government, two members of staff from Babati Water and Sanitation Authority (BAWASA), the Country Director of the NGO Dorcas and a representative from Babati Town Council.

The programme ran for about 15 months and was split into five phases. One phase involved a three-week-long scheduled training in Sweden, and in another participants visited Uganda. During these visits, the delegation had an opportunity to learn about different technologies and city planning, stimulating ideas that they could take back and apply in their own contexts to strengthen WASH systems.

One of the key themes that came out from all the participants’ projects was a lack of coordination among stakeholders in the region. This has been affecting several areas of WASH provision, including financing, resourcing and high levels of non-revenue (un-paid-for) water. The town’s utility, BAWASA, shared that they were experiencing around 48% non-revenue water, which meant they had less income for repairs and extending services. They identified that a key challenge causing this was coordination, because when other government agencies have done construction work they cut water pipes, leading to a waste of water and loss of money.

Additionally, BAWASA did not have feedback or communication mechanisms with community members, so when there was infrastructure damage there was no system in place to enable them to report it.

Inspiration for improvement

Through the ITP SUWAS programme, BAWASA identified ways to improve communication and coordination among stakeholders. After a visit to Sweden and the Royal Seaport in Stockholm resource centre, the delegation were inspired to learn about how stakeholders planned and built the new area in the city. As Evans Simkoko, Regional Health Officer explained, “The most useful thing I have learnt from the ITP SUWAS programme is about collaborative planning. In Stockholm, we saw how stakeholders from all different sectors came together to plan the new urban area. Stakeholders were engaged from the community level up to the national level, and they thought about how to connect the city to nature.”

BAWASA took measures to reduce non-revenue water, including setting up regular stakeholder meetings and involving all agencies who provide services in the town. These meetings have helped to improve the planning and coordination of construction or repair work, which will help to protect the town’s infrastructure. The stakeholders will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding, which will outline the way they work together. 

The utility have also created some communication mechanisms – such as a WhatsApp group involving partners – to easily share and obtain information. They have also set up a free call centre so customers can speak directly to the utility and report any leaks or damage.

Notable benefits

Over the course of a year, BAWASA have noted some changes –including an 8% decrease in non-revenue water – due to their commitment to communicate and coordinate with their stakeholders. Iddy Msuya, Managing Director of BAWASA, shared that:

One piece of advice I would give to other utilities – don’t think you need a lot of money to reduce non-revenue water. If you work closely with the citizens, you can educate them on protecting the services and get information quickly about infrastructure damage.

The ITP SUWAS programme has helped to demonstrate the power of talking. With a lot of WASH expertise already out there, sharing knowledge and experience with stakeholders across the world has proved invaluable for the participants as they now move forward with their change projects.

To reach everyone, we need investment and capital. However, for now, this programme has shown that small changes in the ways we work can make a big difference – and hopefully reach more people with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Priya Sippy is Campaigns and Communications Manager at WaterAid Tanzania. Nicas Petro is Senior Programme Manager. Find out the latest news from WaterAid Tanzania @WaterAidTZ