By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Only one in three people in Tanzania has access to piped water despite government efforts to improve water supplies with most of the population still relying on unsafe water that brings the risk of disease, according to a study on Thursday.
Two years after a government initiative to try to ensure better water supplies, a survey by a local governance think-tank, Twaweza, found most Tanzanians, of 64 percent, still draw water from unsafe sources such as wells and surface water.
The study of 1,852 people found most people in the east African nation, or 65 percent, saw access to clean water as the major challenge facing their communities.
The initiative, Big Results Now, was adopted by the government in 2013 to encourage water, energy, agriculture, and transport sectors to adopt new methods and meet specific goals.
Access to clean and safe water was one of the objectives, with the government aiming to bring water services to 74 percent of the nation's 49 million people within two years.
But the survey based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, Africa's first nationally representative high-frequency mobile survey, found access to improved water sources is still an uphill struggle with many households in urban areas obtaining water from poorly constructed boreholes in their backyards.
Aidan Eyakuze, Twaweza Executive Director, said providing every citizen with water in a large country like Tanzania was challenging as data suggests increasing resources does not always improve access to safe and clean water.
"There is no escaping the need to reach every citizen with this vital service," Eyakuze told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The saying goes, Maji ni Uhai (Water is Life). Sadly for too many Tanzanians, water can actually be deadly."
A United Nations report this year said more than 90 percent of the world's population now has access to clean water which was critical in preventing tropical diseases that cause blindness, disfigurement and death, but large gaps remain, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Tanzania survey, conducted between Sept 9-26, found 36 percent of people in Tanzania have access to piped water while 35 percent rely on wells, 18 percent on surface water and 11 percent on public taps or standpipes.
It found a wide gap between urban and rural areas with more than half, or 51 percent of urban residents, having access to piped water compared to 11 percent of people in rural areas.
While Tanzania is under a growing threat of cholera, the survey found half of respondents reported boiling, straining or letting the water stand and settle before they drank it.
While efforts are being made to resolve water problems with increased financing and technical assistance to the city dwellers, analysts say the government should invest more on public education to teach people about health hazards related to the lack of access to clean water and improved sanitation.
"The government should invest significantly to supply clean water to the people but also ensure waste water is properly managed," said Hubert Kashililah, a retired water engineering expert from Water Aid.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)