Dar Es Salaam — Juma Membe is a doorstep salesman with a commodity no one in his poor Dar es Salaam neighbourhood can refuse. Every inch of space in his handcart is occupied with canary yellow jerry cans of safe drinking water ready for home delivery.
Less than a quarter of the four million people living in Tanzania's financial capital have running water in their homes, city water authorities say. With poor areas typically amongst those lacking piped water, most impoverished city dwellers rely on private vendors to bring them supplies.
"It's a good business because people use water every day," Membe explains, out of breath from racing door to door in the blistering heat.
As a consequence, low-income residents pay higher prices for the vital resource than their wealthy counterparts in plush suburbs. A 20-litre bucket of water has a price tag of about 16 cents, while the same amount piped through a home faucet costs less than one cent, according to London-based non-profit WaterAid.
"The estimate for the minimum daily consumption of water for all purposes -- for cooking, for drinking and cleaning -- is 20 litres per person," Ben Taylor, a policy advisor for WaterAid in Tanzania, told IPS (for the complete interview with Taylor, see 'Q&A: "We Are Certainly Making Progress, But It's Slow"').
This means a family of five could spend up to about 84 cents a day on water (although most residents cut back to save money). That's a small fortune in the East African country, where a third of the 38 million-strong population scrapes by on less than a dollar a day, according to United Nations figures.
Infrastructure running on empty
Years of neglect and poor planning have curtailed maintenance of the water network in Dar es Salaam and prevented the major pipeline expansion required to meet the water needs of a rapidly growing population. There are now entire communities in locations far from municipal water pipes, sewerage facilities and other services.
Nationally, just over 60 percent of the population has access to potable water, according to the latest figures -- from 2004 -- provided by the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation: an initiative of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.
On the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, authorities privatised the water service in Dar es Salaam in 2003, hiring a consortium known as City Water to operate the utility.
The contract was cancelled two years later, after complaints that City Water was slow in making progress to ease water shortages, improve revenue collection and stamp out illegal connections. The consortium, in turn, claimed that its efforts were undermined by the inadequate information it had initially been given about the feeble state of the water system.
The dispute was later taken up in various tribunals located abroad, with a London tribunal reportedly awarding Tanzania's government about six million dollars in damages related to failure of the deal.
City Water was replaced by a government operator, the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Corporation (DAWASCO).
One of the biggest challenges for water authorities remains revenue generation, as just one in every 10 customers pays their water tab, said DAWASCO's public relations manager, Badra Masoud.
To address this problem, the operator has started to hand deliver bills and employ the services of debt collectors, she added.
DAWASCO has also launched a campaign to push defaulters into paying for their water by publicly shaming them. Journalists have been called to witness the utility cut water connections to the homes of cabinet ministers, government offices and the military headquarters of the Tanzanian army, which were months or even years in arrears.
Other tactics include the daily dispatch of DAWASCO trucks fitted with big speakers that are used to blast out payment reminders. "No one is shaking until we force them to pay," said Masoud.
In January, DAWASCO netted an all-time record income of about 1.8 million dollars, and credits this success to its awareness raising efforts.
In another initiative to extend water provision, DAWASCO has started to build centrally located water distribution points in areas of Dar es Salaam where piped water is not yet widely available. Dozens of kiosks are up and running, and hundreds more planned, although many are plagued with erratic water supplies.
Melania Leba runs one of these new businesses. The going rate for a 20-litre canister of water at her small kiosk is just four cents apiece.
"I pay DAWASCO about 30,000 shillings a month (almost 26 dollars) for my water bill and then keep about another 30,000 shillings for myself," she told IPS. "People are happy with the kiosk because they were finding it more expensive when they had to buy from vendors or their neighbours."
Havijawa Shabani, who manages a kiosk further down the road, said customers visit her water station because it is convenient and relatively cheap.
"No one refuses to pay for water because whatever they used before, this is better," she said in an interview with IPS. "There are some people who don't have the money to pay right away, so I let them come back and pay later."
The kiosk initiative, which creates jobs and drives down water prices for the poor, will not solve water shortage problems in Dar es Salaam. But, it is a good example of innovations that can offer immediate help, said WaterAid's Taylor.