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Public opinion in the water sector

A rapid analysis of water-related questions from Afrobarometer public opinion surveys 2001-2008

 Ben Taylor, WaterAid Tanzania, April 2009

Background

Since 2001, the Afrobarometer (www.afrobarometer.org) series of public opinion surveys has been one of the most detailed and reliable sources of data on public opinion in Africa. While the majority of questions in the surveys have focussed on democracy and civic engagement, there are also some water-related questions. The results from these questions can provide a rare and valuable window on citizens’ perspectives in the sector – how does water supply rank among citizens’ priority issue for government to address, how do citizens’ rate government performance in the sector, how widespread is petty corruption in the sector, etc?

This short paper presents some of the key findings of the surveys conducted in Tanzania during 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2008, including comparing results from different years. It also includes some comparisons with other Africa countries. 

Summary of Key Findings

  • Rural Tanzanians cite water supply as their highest priority issue for government to address, and give the water sector the lowest satisfaction rating of key social sectors. They also place a higher priority on government action to address water supply than rural citizens of most other African countries. This all points to an under-performing sector.
  • Urban Tanzanians also put a high priority on water supply as an issue for government to address, ranking it third behind the economy and health. Although this prioritisation is lower than in rural areas of Tanzania, it is nevertheless higher than in any of the other 17 countries surveyed, and urban Tanzanians also give the water sector the lowest satisfaction rating of key social sectors. Again, this points to an under-performing sector, though slightly less so than in rural areas.
  • Petty corruption in Tanzania’s water sector is relatively low, compared both to other sectors in Tanzania and to other countries. However, with 9% of urban Tanzanians reporting having had to pay a bribe to access water and sanitation services in the past year, there is no room for complacency. This refers only to petty corruption in service delivery, not to corruption in procurement of contractors.

Ten things the opinion surveys tell us

Fact 1: Water is the top priority of rural Tanzanians

When asked to list their priorities for government action, rural Tanzanians named water supply as their highest priority issue – see Figure 1. 44% of rural respondents to the 2008 survey named water supply as one of their three top priorities, just ahead of health, infrastructure and agriculture, and well ahead of economy, poverty, education, electricity, corruption and AIDS.

Fact 2: Rural Tanzanians are unsatisfied with government efforts to provide water and sanitation services

When asked to rate government’s handling of various issues, rural Tanzanians were less satisfied at with government efforts to deliver water and sanitation services than government efforts in other social sectors – see Figure 2. Only 39% said that government was handling the delivery of water and sanitation services “very well” or “fairly well”. This compares poorly to over 80% satisfaction ratings for education and HIV/AIDS.

Fact 3: Water is growing in importance as an issue for rural Tanzanians

Comparing rural citizens’ priorities across several years, we see that in 2001 and 2003, water supply was ranked much lower, before becoming top priority in 2005 – see Figure 3. This data suggests that accessing water supply has become more difficult for rural Tanzanians since 2003.

Fact 4: Rural Tanzanians place a higher priority on government action to address water supply challenges than rural citizens of most other African countries

The high priority rural Tanzanians put on government action to address water supply challenges is again clearly highlighted by a comparison with Afrobarometer surveys in other countries – see Figure 3. This data, from the 2005 survey (more recent data from other countries has not yet been published), shows than rural citizens in only one surveyed country – Benin – put a higher priority on water supply than rural Tanzanians. These were the only two countries to rank water supply as top priority.

This suggests that other countries are responding to the needs of rural citizens for water supply more effectively than in Tanzania.

Fact 5: Water is also a high priority for urban Tanzanians, though lower than in rural areas

Water supply was the named by urban Tanzanians as their third highest priority issue for government to address – see Figure 5. 25% of urban respondents to the 2008 survey listed water supply in their top three priorities. This is below economy / employment (39%) and health (32%), and equal with education and corruption.

Fact 6: Urban Tanzanians are less satisfied with government’s handling of water and sanitation than with other services

Of selected key social sectors, urban Tanzanians gave the lowest satisfaction ratings to government’s handling of water and sanitation services – see Figure 6. This is well below HIV/AIDS, education, roads and basic health services. However, this satisfaction rating is higher than in rural areas (see Figure 2). More than half the urban respondents said that government was handling water and sanitation services “very well” or “fairly well”, compared to less than 40% of rural respondents.

Fact 7: Urban Tanzanians’ satisfaction with water and sanitation services was higher in 2005 than either 2003 or 2008

Urban Tanzanians’ satisfaction with water and sanitation services peaked at 60% in 2005, significantly higher than in 2003 (44%) and 2008 (51%). Although it is hard to be certain, this could be related to the Tanzanian government’s hardline stance towards City Water in that year and in the run up to the 2005 general election.

Fact 8: Urban Tanzanians rank water supply as a higher priority issue for government to address than urban citizens in other African countries

In 2005, the most recent year for which data is available for other parts of Africa, 29% of urban Tanzanians named water supply as one of the top three priority issues that government needs to address, more than in any other surveyed country – see figure 8. This compares to an average of 12% of urban respondents across Africa including water supply as a top priority.

This suggests that other countries are responding to the needs of urban citizens for water supply more effectively than in Tanzania.

Fact 9: Petty corruption is reportedly lower in the water sector than in other sectors

In both rural and urban areas, the 2008 survey reported lower levels of petty corruption in the water sector than in the police and general administration. 9% of urban Tanzanians reported having to pay a bribe to get water or sanitation services in the past year, compared to 18% bribing the police and 14% to get a document or permit.

However, this does not mean that corruption in the sector as a whole is low, since most corruption in the water sector is thought to takes place at a higher level, in the procurement of contractors for engineering works.

Fact 10: Petty corruption in the water sector in urban Tanzania is reportedly lower than in Uganda and Nigeria, but higher than in Malawi and South Africa

Comparing reports of petty corruption in the water sector between countries puts Tanzania around the middle – see Figure 10. In urban Tanzania, 9% of respondents reported having to pay at least one bribe in the past year in order to access water or sanitation services, above Malawi and South Africa and just below Ghana. This is well below Nigeria and Uganda, where the figures are a staggering 22% and 28% respectively.

Again this refers only to petty corruption and not to corruption in procurement or contracting.