Water in Crisis - Tanzania

Rebecca Shore (Guest Writer)

Like many poor nations around the world, Tanzania suffers from serious issues involving its people in regards to water. In a nation where one third of the country is arid to semi-arid, it is very difficult for people to find access to clean, sanitary water if they don't live near one of the three major lakes that border the country. As a result, Tanzania's ground water is the major source of water for the nation's people; however it's not always clean. Many of these ground water wells are located near or next to toxic drainage systems, which leak into the fresh ground water and contaminate it. Consequently, Tanzanians turn to surface water which contains things like bacteria or human waste; and people have no choice but to drink from, bathe in or wash their clothes in these areas. According to Tanzania National Website, water-borne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera "account for over half of the diseases affecting the population," because people don't have access to sanitary options.

Diseases stemming from contaminated water aren't the only problem plaguing Tanzanian society. In a household where money is scarce and daughters and mothers have to spend several hours each day walking to get water from pumps, they run the risk of being attacked or raped. TGNP, Tanzanian Gender Networking Program, found in a study of poor households "that the lack of safe, sufficient, and affordable water in Tanzania had increased rates of gender-based violence and the number of girls dropping out of school." Families who don't have money for water, let alone school, have no choice but to send their daughters out to collect water, possibly resulting in these episodes of violence. Unfortunately, the choices of these families are limited, they need water to survive.

As severe as the situation was, Tanzania's government attempted many times to fix it, with no avail. They understood the desperate need for water in poor areas of the country, so in 1971 the government instituted a 20 year Rural Water Supply Program. This program aimed to provide "access to adequate, safe, dependable water supply within a walking distance of 400 meters from each household" (The Reform of Water Sector in Tanzania). Under this program, the government also wanted to provide free water to its citizens, because water is a basic human right. However, as positive and hopeful as this program was, it failed to deliver because of issues with beneficiaries, technology, and its approach. In 1991, the government tried to implement the National Water Policy, which too needed to be revised and ultimately failed.

In 2003, when Tanzania had tried and was unsuccessful at fixing its water crisis, they came under pressure from the World Bank to privatize their water or not be given international aid and funding. So in 2003 a British corporation called Biwater came into the country and took over their water system. However, Tanzania's water problems only continued to get worse with Biwater in charge. Women were still being attacked when gathering water, because they still needed to walk long distances to access a pump. Additionally, people were still dying from water borne illnesses, and cities were still without any access to sanitary water. As a result, in 2005 the Tanzanian government took Biwater to court in London for breach of contract. They won the case and Biwater had to pay $7 million in damages to Tanzania.

In Tanzania today, the water situation is not fixed nor nearly perfect, but the government and the people know how important it is to have access to sanitary options and continue to work towards that goal.


Doeringast, Ernest. "The Reform of the Water Sector in Tanzania." (2005)

In Tanzania, the Politics of War. The Boston Globe (5/29/08):


Victory for Water Rights in Tanzania. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (6/2/08):


Water: Tanzania. Tanzania National Website. http://www.tanzania.go.tz/water.html

Children often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds. Sickness and the time lost fetching it robs entire communities of their futures.

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