“Undertaking” Tanzania’s Water Sector Development Programme?

I spent two days last week at the annual Joint Water Sector Review meeting – the so-called “highlight” of the annual calendar of “dialogue”. This was the sixth such meeting to be held – and I have the “distinction” of having attended all of them. But as you can probably guess from the profusion of “inverted commas” in this paragraph, I’m having serious doubts about the whole exercise. Before I come to that, though, let me give you some background.

Around 250 people from the Ministry of Water, other related government ministries and agencies, the “development partners” and civil society all attended, in the workshop factory that is Ubungo Plaza. All the main stakeholders were there. Apart from water consumers that is, who are only represented in the sense that everyone consumes water. And those consumers (or perhaps I should call them citizens) weren’t represented by their official representatives either – no MPs or local councillors attend, with the exception of the Ministers officiating at the formal opening and closing sessions. We civil society folks had to take on that role.The Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) is the main agenda at this meeting – one of the biggest sector-wide programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa, worth $1.2 billion dollars over 6 years. We review it’s progress, discuss challenges and agree “undertakings” – priority actions for the next 12 months. Which brings me to my doubts.

Undertakers” are what professional funeral directors are called in the UK, which somehow seems appropriate. I can’t escape the feeling that something has died here, and I wonder if it’s time to lay it to rest.

Let’s take rural water supply. (I also strongly recommend WaterAid Tanzania’s recent video on the same subject.) So much money was spent on consultants designing water supply projects for 10 villages in each district, and the schemes that were designed are so expensive, that there’s now very little money left for actually drilling boreholes, installing pumps and laying pipes. In some districts, we’re told, only 1 village will actually receive the promised project (in other districts up to five will benefit). Expectations have been raised, along with compulsory community contributions, in all 10. The other nine will have to wait until more funds can be found. The other 40-50 villages in an average-sized district will have to wait even longer. There’s also the problem that in some districts, consultants designed a single large project covering all 10 villages, which can’t easily be scaled down to accommodate the reduced funding available.

Some sums. Let’s assume the average number of villages to benefit per district turns out to be 3 per district. That means that five years work and over $300 million dollars spent on rural water supply will have resulted in water for around 400 villages (3 x 133 districts) and around 1 million people (2,500 people per village). That means the programme has cost $300 per person ($300m, 1m people), more than even the most expensive urban water projects usually cost. And in those same five years, the rural population of Tanzania has increased by over 2 million people (25m to 27m, based on 2% rise per year). We’ve spent $300 million to go backwards.

These problems are clearly major concerns at community level. There’s the example of Magoda village, who gave up waiting and decided to go it alone instead. They’re now building a new, bigger dam, and will be selling water to neighbouring communities. And on a bigger scale, Mustafa Sabodo, the mercurial CCM-member-but-Chadema-donor is spending 2.5 billion shillings (around $1.5m) on rural water supplies, with a priority on Chadema-held constituencies (which clearly concerns the Deputy Minister). Sabodo and his friends in Chadema have clearly identified rural water supply as an area where the government is under-performing and they can earn popularity by filling the gap.

And on the review itself. On the positive side, it’s just about the only opportunity civil society has to raise its concerns about the sector, and right from the first review back in 2006 there are several examples of civil society’s concerns and recommendations being taken on board. It’s a rare opportunity for civil society to set the agenda.

But it doesn’t really work. The donors resolve their problems with the Ministry through other channels, so barely use the sector review for its intended purpose of “dialogue”. The government sees the whole exercise as box-ticking, we have to do this so lets do it as quickly and minimally as possible. And even where civil society has succeeded at setting the agenda, it hasn’t led anywhere. We’ve been talking about sustainability and equitable planning for years, but nothing has really changed as a result. Above all, it clearly doesn’t work as a way of resolving problems in the sector, or the so-called 10-village programme would have been turned around long ago.

The undertakings are agreed well after the Ministry’s annual budget has been approved, and the following years budget comes too late to compensate, so any expensive undertakings can’t happen. Difficult ones remain as regular agenda items for months or years without any real progress being made. And it’s the same every year – the same issues, the same discussions, the same conclusions and the same lack of implementation. One frustrated participant described the review as “Groundhog Day“.

Having said that, this year’s review was slightly different to last year. Donors have not made any regular disbursements for the programme for over 18 months, due to “compliance” issues. In normal-world-language that means they’re not happy with the standard of financial management and reporting on the programme. And they have very good reasons to have such concerns – a special audit of the WSDP conducted by the National Audit Office raised some major issues. But unlike last year, the Ministry doesn’t seem too concerned.

Why not? Because at the very same time when the donors are not releasing any funds, they are also having to find ways of justifying a 5-year second phase. Others donors are about to join the programme for the first time, which also needs to be justified back to headquarters. So the trickier issues are swept under the carpet, and we all happily agree that progress is “moderately satisfactory” (rather than last year’s “moderately unsatisfactory”), conveniently just enough to justify new funding. And in the process, the trickier issues are not addressed. Donors have a quiet word over coffee with any dissenting voices, suggesting that we should tone it down.

But my main concern is not so much with the review, flawed though it undoubtedly is. The more important issue is the WSDP as a whole. Are we going to continue with the idea that we will eventually get around to installing expensive new water projects in all 10 villages in every district, leaving those that were not lucky enough to be selected the first time round to wait for another 5-10 years before they have a chance of funding? Are we happy that the programme is serving so few people at such high cost? Are we going to continue installing waterpoints using a process that looks very unlikely to deliver sustainability?

Believe it or not, I find myself in a dilemma. After all, perhaps the answer to those questions should be yes. The scale of the WSDP and the changing role of the Ministry of Water (facilitator-coordinator rather than implementer) was always going to require a difficult period of adjustment. Perhaps an improvement is just around the corner, more efficient management will become a reality rather than just a promise, and the money spent on consultants designing water projects will begin to bear fruit. Pulling the plug on either the 10-village programme or the WSDP as a whole would be hugely disruptive, perhaps resulting in the loss of whatever gains have been made in the past five years.

Are there any alternatives? Is it time to give up on the sector-wide approach and go back to donor-funded, donor-controlled projects in specific areas, abandoning Paris declaration principles of harmonisation, local ownership and domestic accountability? That would be a shame. Is it time to let urban water utilities fend for themselves with soft loans to encourage more efficient use of resources? That idea is on the table and could solve some problems, but not rural water supply. Perhaps some kind of output-based aid, such as Cash On Delivery? But it’s hard to make that work, and neither donors nor the Ministry are keen. Is it time to abandon donor funding for water supply altogether?

In the end, I find it very difficult to reach the conclusion that withdrawing funding would be the right option when funds are so clearly still urgently needed. Yet I also find it very difficult to support continued funding of a programme that faces such serious challenges. I’m left only with the hope that Chadema’s (and Sabodo’s) recognition that the government is under-performing in this sector will spur the government and the Ministry into action.

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Originally published on Daraja’s blog, at http://blog.daraja.org/2011/10/undertaking-tanzanias-water-sector.html

7 thoughts on ““Undertaking” Tanzania’s Water Sector Development Programme?

  1. Anonymous

    Great analysis but would question the sums. while it is true that the rural water supply has costed my than anticipated it is partly a challenge of decentralised service delivery without the necessary capacity to provide monitoring and supervision and partly a reflection of changing climatic conditions. if a shallow well is working in areas with high water table it is not the same is some dry areas.

    WSDP was designed in such a manner that it was going to serve 10 villages per district. in reality more than 10 villages would be built.

    the initial 2 year of the so quick wins rehabilitated a lot of villages water points and constructed new ones which did not require signficant designs.

    The consutants hired for the districts did not only design schemes for 10 villages but also developed water and sanitation plan for the whole district. It is up to the council to make use of the plans.

  2. Anonymous

    Good analysis Ben, and I do believe the sums are in the right ball park!
    When a program of this nature quietly reduces its 'incremental target of water points' from 41,900 water points to 5,800, alarm bells should ring. 41,900 WPs (using the MoW standard of 250 people per WP) would be expected to serve over 10,0000 rural dwellers. Whereas 5,800 WPs will serve just 1.45 million – quite a reduction! Eight and a half million people (and growing) without clean safe water.

    So what can we do differently?

    Like you, Ben, I cannot advocate withdrawing funds. Access to clean safe water is fundamental to development and to poverty reduction.

    There are many myths in the WSDP – the communities want the more sophisticated costly design; the District WS Team was fully involved in the design process; more costly designs will be more sustainable;and so forth. Most of us (I hope) know these are not true. Many DWE and District WS Teams hve felt that designs are foisted on them (and the communities) by consultants with alternative agendas. The communities, in many cases, are willing to accept what is on offer. I have certainly heard DWEs expressing the opiniobn that these schemes cannot be sustained or managed by the communities. Despite the lessons of the past 20+ years, the 'sofeware component' remains weak. Heavens, most of the LGAs do not understand the concept of the COWSO, and are still promoting Village Water Committee style management models.

    Some suggestions;
    1. District plans which zone the district into areas where shallow wells are an option, where gravity fed schemes are an option, and where more costly interventions are needed, or where household treatment option could serve?

    2. Be willing to channel more funds (and control) through LGAs. Risky? Yes, it could be done more competitively, with monitoring and support. Building on the 'quick wins' but without the rush. And making the process more transparent, so recipients know what is supposed to be coming their way.

    3. Use of the WP Mapping results to develop a new 'rehab quick win' approach?


  3. Ben Taylor

    Thanks for your comments, Vivienne and “Anonymous”.

    Anonymous, I think you are mistaken on the issue of decentralisation. I think that part of the challenge here is that not enough has been decentralised, that too much control has been kept in the hands of the Ministry, with the result that they are overloaded. So they come up with generic approaches (such as “ten villages”) that don't reflect the differences between different LGAs. Also, while we can argue about the precise numbers of villages, waterpoints and people benefiting, the main point – that these new waterpoints are hugely expensive compared to the number of people getting water as a result – is absolutely correct.

    Vivienne, I think your suggestions on how to move forward are very useful. In particular, I think a combination of more decentralisation, better monitoring, and some form of quick-win capital funding for LGAs could be very productive.

    That still leaves the question of what to do with the ten villages, though?

  4. Simon

    Interesting analysis, Ben. Having just been to some rural and not so rural areas in Tz to examine water needs, I can see that things are complex and often have little to do with water and even less to do with the people who need water. I don't know what the solution is, though I don't think efforts to provide people with clean water and sanitation should not cease until everyone has access. The potential gains are too important to ignore.

    The issue of consultants burning through most of the money so that there is hardly any left for the people most in need is not confined to water projects, nor to Tanzania or even developing countries. Is the use of consultants justified?

    It seems that using the word 'consultant' results in demands for 500 dollars a day plus expenses. Even if the figure is just 100 dollars a day, is that justified in a country where the GNP per capita is not much more than 500 dollars?

    Saying 500 dollars is too much is not the same as saying they should get paid nothing or that they shouldn't be used. But perhaps some thought needs to be put into what percentage of a budget could reasonably be spent on consultants. It seems hard to believe that someone can spend five days doing something better than another could do in 5 months, for the same cost or less.

    Consultants always seem to beget other consultants. I know because I was one, in the government information industry in the UK. The day rate was about the same there, despite the GNP per capita being about fifty times higher and the cost of living also far higher.

    The information industry in the UK may have money to throw away, but does the non-profit sector? It sounds as if someone was happy to keep on handing out money to consultants in Tz until there was none left. What will they do now, wait till the next round of funding and start the process again?

  5. Ben Taylor

    Thanks for your comment, Simon.

    I think your comments on the value of consultants are very useful.

    In this particular case, I agree that this is part of the problem. But I think the bigger issues here are the process by which they were appointed, the guidance they were given, and the lack of overall strategic oversight.

    When consultants proposals came in, it seems nobody checked whether they offered value for money, or whether the amounts quoted would leave enough funds for constructing their designs. Then they were given insufficient guidance on the funds that would be available for engineering works, so came up with unrealistically expensive designs.

    The process could have worked, but the lack of clear leadership and management allowed these problems to creep in.

  6. Simon

    Yes, leadership is clearly a problem. As an NGO, I think the organization I work for should take care not to contract consultants when they need trainers, researchers, etc, it is always taken as a license to demand high day rates. I think consultants have their uses but when budgets are limited they can destroy a project, or at least impoverish it.

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