Agata Slota | Palladium - Mar 21 2019
Making Water a Given, Not a Gamble

Beatrice Musa and family with their newly constructed latrines. Source: HDIF

How many days can one go without water? How far is too far to walk to a water source, only to find that there is none? 

In the Kataru District of northern Tanzania, most community members collect water at public water sources, or “points”. The water is only available for a few hours a day because it comes from the river, an unreliable source that depends on the rains. During the dry season, the river stops flowing.

People – mostly women – walk up to five kilometres to these water points, hoping they get there before the water runs out for the day. Sometimes they wait in three-hour long lines only to be disappointed when the water is closed before it’s their turn.

The water points are managed by community-owned organisations, which pay caretakers to handle the sale of the water. The caretakers receive 30% commission on the sales, but they sometimes supplement their income by tempering with the water meters or randomly raising the price.

“Oftentimes the person in charge of the water point could decide to hike water prices. If the price is Tsh 200 ($0.09) for a 200 litre water drum, the person can charge Tsh 300 ($0.13) instead,” explained Peter Madawe, Treasurer for the Endamarariek / Endabash water supply organisation in the district.

The water supply organisations don’t have the ability to verify how much water is sold, nor how much money the caretaker brings in. Nor can they prevent water wastage or spilling at the water points. As a result, the organisations rarely have money for maintenance and repairs, which can leave some water points unusable for days, or even weeks.

Women, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are often the ones who make the sacrifices when water is scarce.

Beatrice Musa collects water for a family of nine, and they sometimes have to go days without water. “During this time, I would forego bathing to conserve water for their needs, such as those of my children and husband, and for income-generating activities like feeding livestock,” she says.

Source: HDIF
Source: HDIF

From 5K to 50 meters

Between 2015 and 2017, twenty new advanced water system were introduced into two communities in Endamarariek / Endabash and Karatu.

The new water systems allow people to pay for water with pre-paid smartcards that they top up at water kiosks. The cards are inserted into slots on the water dispensers, which then dispense precisely the amount of water that was paid for. This is a fully transparent transaction and reduces water waste, because buyers take care not to spill any of the water for which they've paid.

The dispensers are solar powered and connected to water tanks that are filled with water from deep boreholes, instead of from the river.

“Water means everything to us,” says Magdalena Justin. “Now I don’t have to wake up at 4am to fetch water. I can collect water at any time of the day and I know exactly how much to save because the machine shows me how much I spend.”

With the new system, users can feel confident that they are paying a fair price and getting exactly the amount of what that they paid for.

“With the new prepaid technology there are no more fake bills,” Beatrice explains.

The AQTap water dispenser, housed in a kiosk and solar powered. Source: HDIF
The AQTap water dispenser, housed in a kiosk and solar powered. Source: HDIF

Consumers can view their balance and see all transactions on a display unit. A remote monitoring system uploads the data using the internet or 3G to a central server. This information is viewed remotely by the water supply organisations’ system administrator. The administrator can see if there are any technical problems at the dispenser.

The water supply organisations know exactly how much water was purchased, reducing the risk of fraud and mismanagement. Their revenue has increased by over 250% in the months when the changes were introduced, and they’ve been able to use the money for maintenance and repairs. Combined with getting information on problems much more quickly, having these funds has reduced the time needed to repair water sources. The water supply organisations are also saving money to set up more water kiosks.

Over 4500 women and 3700 men have used the system since its implementation. For some, not having to travel far to get water and being able to use the time on other activities has allowed for savings that they’ve used to invest in their homes, with broader improvements in sanitation and hygiene, and hopefully in health.

Beatrice had two new latrines constructed. Magdalena remarked that her home is always clean now.

“There is enough water for bathing, cleaning the house, washing latrines, handwashing, cooking, feeding livestock…” she said.
The district government is now looking to expand the system, and there is interest from private sector companies to replicate the model.

The AQtap water dispenser was developed by water technology company Grundfos LIFELINK A/S, which worked with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Diocese of Mbulu Development Department to implement the system in the communities.

The project was funded through the Human Development Impact Fund (HDIF), a UK Aid programme, implemented by Palladium.