Access to clean water is one of the major challenges in many African countries, especially in Tanzania, where rural water points break easily and are not repaired quickly. A June 2010 report by the African Development Bank Group found that 80 % of the population of Tanzania lives in rural areas. Inequality in water access between rural and urban areas is a significant issue in Tanzania where the water supply coverage is approximately at 73 % for urban areas and 53 % for rural areas. A 2008 Afrobarometer survey found that water supply access and maintenance was the highest priority of 44% surveyed respondents in rural areas. So how can this problem be resolved?
Maji Matone (Raising the Water Pressure) is a program run by Daraja, a civil society organization based in southern Tanzania that updates citizens about rural water supply problems and also allows them to report breakdown in the water supply via text messages, and then forwards the information to the relevant authorities.
Thanks to partnerships with a local radio station in each district, the organization is able to draw attention to repeated water problems through radio broadcasts that report on water supply outages and government inaction. Launched in November of 2010, the pilot will run until September 2011 at which point the organization plans to expand Maji Matone nationwide.
Richard Lucas, project manager of Maji Matone, explains that the project has multiple benefits for participants. Not only do citizens have a reliable means of reporting water problems, but it also gives citizens an easy way to have their voices heard by the local government. He says, “We want to bring people and the government close. We want people to monitor and report on the water quality in the areas, to inform the local government so they can be aware.”
Daraja chose to focus the Maji Mantone project in rural districts because he found that there is inequity in water access between rural and urban areas; Lucas explains that money for new water projects is allocated to more developed areas that have more money, while rural areas often do not receive sustained attention.
Why use a mobile phone?
Sending SMS is low-cost and quick. Contacting Daraja with a regular SMS is low-cost, even if each report must include the village, the specific water point, and the problem. The ubiquity of mobile phones in the target districts and the fact that SMS can function on basic mobile handsets made the use of mobile technology an easy choice for the organization. Says Lucas, “We found this is easier for people wanting to report water issues. Instead of traveling from out of the town, they can send a message.”
Since Daraja acts as a “middle man”, it also allows people to anonymously report their problems – Daraja only passes along the message, not names or numbers. Lucas reports that the organization has received 800 messages so far, 200 of which have been passed on to the local government. Lucas says that many of the messages have incomplete information, a challenge the organization is working to resolve through more outreach among the target audience.
What are the challenges?
Lucas reports that another big challenge the organization has faced is keeping people engaged over time. He notes that although awareness of the program is high, many villagers are used to government inaction and thus reluctant to participate. He says that a main focus of the program is changing attitudes in order to create an environment in which people do not idly accept infrastructure problems, but take a proactive approach instead. He explains, “We have learned that giving people information is not enough. The issue is how people can use this information to bring about changes – how can people use this information to take action?”
The program is set to run for three and half years as part of a larger Daraja initiative that focuses on government accountability and citizen participation.