The Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) has commissioned a report on the performance of prepaid water systems in rural Tanzania, where access to drinking water is a significant problem. A 2015 national water point mapping survey found that out of 86,946 rural water points, only half were functional, and as a result half of the people in rural areas do not have access to safe drinking water.
This failure has many causes, including poor operations, maintenance, and revenue management. Recently, prepaid systems have attracted attention as a sustainable solution, with different models being piloted by national and international organisations across the country. The report lays the groundwork for more comprehensive sustainability strategies in the future and provides recommendations for improvements.
Prepaid Systems Create Clarity
The report presents seven key findings, spotlighting the efficiencies gained in terms of data and revenue collection as well as potential economic development and insights for future technological improvements. Unsurprisingly, revenue collection is key to the sustainability of all of the systems tested. Being able to count on revenue means local authorities can invest in systems and the human resources required to support those systems. Minimising cash transactions provides convenience both for citizens and supply authorities, while keeping costs transparent.
Solar energy is also a key opportunity, as it presents significantly lower recurring charges than alternate power sources despite a higher initial cost. Meanwhile, real time data collection can be used to support monitoring, maintenance, and longer-term planning.
“The success of prepaid water meter systems is more influenced by the management in place than it is by the type of technology used,” according to Muzafar Kaemdin, HDIF’s Technical Director and Program Development Lead. Bringing human capital considerations to the forefront provides potential for significant improvements.
Moving Towards Sustainability
It’s clear that the use of prepaid water systems in rural Tanzania is a game changer. Providing six recommendations for future improvements, the report ultimately points to longer-term planning and relationship building as a critical success factor for long-term sustainability.
HDIF Country Director Joseph Manirakiza is encouraged by the recommendations, noting that “concrete plans to address the limitations of these systems, and to achieve long-term sustainability, is what’s needed – this report provides a solid foundation for these plans”.
Focusing on the role of local water authorities in particular, the recommendations put forward a need for strategic decision making around profit distribution, as well as the need for partnerships with independent technology and other private sector organisations. While already presenting an inclusive option, the opportunity remains for prepaid water systems to introduce lifeline water tariffs for the poorest, which further supports access.
Two of the three systems studied currently aren’t providing effective options for the most marginalised members of communities to access water at cheaper prices. Long-term strategies, and key partnerships, could support local authorities to implement tariff rates and introduce lifeline water volumes.
The research and data from the HDIF report, when coupled with learnings from other emerging markets, can provide useful guidance to other governments seeking to efficiently provide safe drinking water to their rural and underdeveloped populaces. In pursuit of reaching global water and sanitation goals by 2030, countries must continue to learn from success stories while ensuring that the specific needs of their people are acknowledged and met.
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The Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) is a UKAid-funded program managed by Palladium in partnership with KPMG and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).