Finally, good data on sanitation in Tanzania. But it paints a bad picture

For years, the true state of household sanitation in Tanzania has been hidden by bad data. Household surveys have repeatedly found that around 85% of households across most of Tanzania have access to a pit latrine, with around 10% having better facilities (like flush toilets) and around 5% having nothing. This high level of access to basic latrines is a result of Mwl Nyerere’s Mtu ni Afya campaign in the 1970s.

But other than providing an opportunity for an interesting history lesson, this statistic was almost useless, as it made no distinction between well constructed, clean pit latrines and filthy, overflowing or uncovered pits. Now, at last, we have better data.

The quality of a pit latrine is important as it can make a big difference to the spread of disease. Official international monitoring of the water and sanitation Millennium Development Goals is done by the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), which only counts “improved” sanitation facilities when monitoring progress towards halving the number of people without access to sanitation. This definition (see box below) includes pit latrines with a washable slab, but not those without a slab.

Household surveys in Tanzania have never previously made this distinction. As a result, Tanzania has never been able to report accurately on progress towards the MDG for sanitation. Estimates on progress were just that – estimates – calculated using a combination of assumptions and models based on more detailed data from other countries. Nor has Tanzania ever really been able to assess whether it is making progress on sanitation – are more people getting access to better sanitation or not?

Now, finally, the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), published last month and available online (pdf), gives us an answer. This is the first household survey in Tanzania to use the standard international survey questions on household sanitation, and therefore to produce data in line with the JMP definitions of improved and unimproved sanitation given above.

The results are pretty disappointing, well below expectations. Only 12% of Tanzanian households are using an “improved” facility, leaving 88% with an “unimproved” facility. This means we are well below the JMP’s past estimates for access to sanitation (based on models and assumptions rather than surveys) – the JMP had previously estimated that 34% had access to “improved” facilities.

This means that around 35 million Tanzania do not have access to the kind of sanitation facilities that provide an effective barrier against disease. It also puts Tanzania well behind neighbouring countries (assuming their data is reliable) – the proportion of households with access to sanitation in Kenya is 31%, Burundi 46%, Uganda 48% and Rwanda 54%, compared to 12% in Tanzania (figures from the JMP website).

The full breakdown from the DHS 2010 is given below, alongside data from two earlier surveys.

In summary, the survey paints a picture of household sanitation that’s far more detailed than previous estimates, but also far worse than expected. Let’s hope we can now use this much-improved data to get to grips with the sanitation crisis.

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Originally posted on Daraja’s blog, at

8 thoughts on “Finally, good data on sanitation in Tanzania. But it paints a bad picture

  1. Wilhelmina Malima

    Ben , thank you for bringing the analysis further to give the picture and lessons from the findings.

    I think we should thank all who managed to get the definitions into use, it is a result of having Sanitation and hygiene together that can define its needs and many other factors, it is a result of having a policy ( the draft that brought these definitions together) , therefore I believe when the policy is approved, many things will move. And thanks to NBS to be ready to engage stakeholders for useful inputs.

  2. Anonymous

    Really credit should go to all those who made this possible.
    But I still think we need to understand the difinition of each of the components. Such as what do we mean by slab? Do we all share the same meaning. What does JMP say about slab? Does this mean mean floor with cement only?
    The same DHS indicate that only 15.2% of rural houses floors are cemented. If the pit latrine with slab means cemented, then that will be hard to acheive.
    According to JMP a slab is a platform made from any material that fully cover the latrine pit except for a drop hole.
    another insight comes where Zanzibar has more pit latrines with slab and pour flush than mainland Tanzania.Does this mean that Zanzibar is more advanced in sanitation and hygiene behavior? But what about the higher rate of open dification than mainland? Can we try to understand why?
    We need to sharpen our understanding of components of improved sanitation otherwise we will be making wrong conclusions here!

  3. Ben Taylor

    Thanks @Wilhelmina and Anonymous for your comments. And you are both right that credit is due to NBS, UNICEF, WaterAid and the others that have made the change possible.

    @Anonymous, definitions are always going to be tricky, as is training survey teams to differentiate between different types of pit latrines, so no survey data like this can ever be 100% reliable. But it's still a lot better than the data we had previously.

    And for the record, the full definition of “pit latrine with slab” that I have from JMP is as follows:

    “Pit latrine with slab: a dry pit latrine which uses a hole in the ground to collect the excreta and a squatting slab or platform that is firmly supported on all sides, easy to clean and raised above the surrounding ground level to prevent surface water from entering the pit. The platform has a squatting hole, or is fitted with a seat.”

    The key points are that the slab should be firmly supported, washable and should present surface water from entering. So a cement slab would count, or a plastic one, or even a well-made mud-surface. But wooden planks with gaps, or a poorly made mud-surface should not count.

  4. Laura

    In Tanzania, sector stakeholders produced a sheet with photographs of different types of latrines (both improved and unimproved) in order to reduce the risk of misidentification by NBS enumerators. This is something that could easily be replicated in other countries!

    Interesting findings, which should be informing investment priorities in Tz. Particularly interested in the fact that less than 1% of the urban population are connected to the sewerage network whereas WaterAid's research shows that nearly all public funds go to sewerage and sewage treatment….

  5. Ben Taylor

    @Laura, thanks for the interesting note on survey methodology.

    Also, your point on sewerage is important. Almost all investment in urban sanitation goes on something that hardly anyone uses. Sewage treatment is needed (otherwise where would septic tanks and latrine pits get emptied?) but sewerage is very expensive and serves very few.

    Finally, the figures make a mockery (again) of the Ministry of Water's annual reports claiming that 17 or 18% of Dar households are served by sewerage. They've been stating the same figure for years, ignoring the fact that sewerage networks had not kept up with population growth. Maybe the 17% figure was accurate once, but it's been wrong for years, if not decades.

  6. Anonymous

    Not that easy to clean and washable are different things all together.We should be very careful when using the word washable it connotes using water, the use of the word washable makes all the well made mud slubs irrelevant to enumerators. I am a Tanzania and I come from very remote village where latrine slabs are made from mud. From my understanding of your (JMP) definition they should be in an improved category.
    If the slab made from mud can be improved then this data is not painting a bad picture bure rather a wrong picture! We are one step towards a right direction so let us all support this effort by pointing where the problem is (definitions) other than attacking the morale in those wh are trying to acheive the public good!

  7. Ferdinandes Axweso from WaterAid

    Thanks Ben for this wonderful information. To me this is good news. For years those of us working in the WASH sector have been struggling to improve performance monitoring since we know that once reality is known, solutions will be developed. Now that reality has been uncovered, we have all the tools at our disposal to bridge the gap.

  8. dt

    @ Ferdinandes. I totally agree that good performance monitoring is important and should form the cornerstone of any viable solution. I would however take issue with the statement 'Now that reality has been uncovered, we have all the tools at our disposal to bridge the gap'. This gap has existed for a long time and is growing. The fact that it is bigger than we thought doesn't alter the fact that if NGOs, governments or communities really had the solution then the gap should have been getting smaller. I think this myth that the tools to address these problems already exist is damaging and holding the sector back from making any real progress. At the moment huge amounts of money are wasted repeating the same mistakes which have been made for the last 20 years. I'm thinking especially of supposed 'solutions' to sanitation problems in unplanned, urban settlements. What is needed is an honest review of what has been done and why it has not worked. From here, if we're brave enough, we could really start examining what the challenges are what the solutions might be. This would require honesty, a willingness to take risks, a willingness to innovate and the capacity to learn and adapt when faced with failure. Unfortunately these things are mostly incompatible with donor funding criteria. I know of few donors, not none but certainly not many, who would be impressed with an organisation who turned around half way through a project and admitted, 'The approach we used was totally wrong for the context and hasn't worked at all. The good news is we know exactly why it hasn't worked, have some ideas of what we could improve and we only spent half your money to find it out!' I think that this suggests two solutions. 1/ The relationship between NGOs Donors and failure needs a dramatic overhaul. 2/ Until this happens we should be looking to other, more flexible and adaptable entities to find solutions, may I suggest looking to the private sector? Either way something needs to change, if we march blithely on with our head in the sand (or pit latrine), thinking we have the solutions to these problems in the face of all the evidence to the contrary we're never going to make it very far. If however we can be honest, admit when things don't work, learn from them and are not afraid to take risks to address the problem then we may just start to see the gap (slowly) reduce.

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