Water, a basic human need, but a privilege to the voiceless

Social issuesWater management

Notes to broadcasters

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Water is a basic need everywhere in the world. In many African countries, there is plenty of water. But whether the water is safe is another question. Some communities travel long distances just to find water. In these cases, nobody bothers about its safety. Where water is easily available, then the community starts to talk about clean and safe water for domestic use.

It is the responsibility of communities to learn about water and sanitation for their safety, lest they spend most of their time in hospital beds nursing water-related diseases. Sometimes, people’s greed leads them to make illegal connections to the main pipes without understanding the damage and conflict this creates for the community.

In the following script, a community in Tanzania was able to access water with their own water system. A local government representative had helped the district’s water office introduce a Central Gravity Flow Scheme to help the community. The district government provided all the resources and expenses that were required to set up a scheme that stretched over 23 kilometres. Nobody could have foreseen that conflicts would arise. But people who wanted their own private, illegal connections went ahead and did so, with the knowledge of the service providers.

This script is a fictionalized story which is based on actual interviews with project beneficiaries and project staff. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.



Jacob: Advocacy trainer
Cheburet: Scheme attendant
Community members 1 & 2
Clement: Sub-county official

Listener, our program today is about water. The main focus is on water integrity. Water integrity is all about responsibility and accountability in managing and using water. When everyone acts ethically, this provides a preventive barrier to corruption. The accountability applies to everyone, starting with the user. The user is responsible for using the resource legally and fairly. The water service provider is also responsible for doing his or her work legally, fairly and openly, and conforming to agreements that are made between users and providers. Water integrity also applies to politicians, government officials, companies and workers who regulate and construct water systems, and ensure that community water is safe.

Our story is set in the fictional community of Diwani, in Machinjoni District in southeastern Tanzania. Diwani enjoys a community water project, a Central Gravity Flow Scheme. The water project has worked well for some in the community, but there have been challenges.

Listener, today you will hear how corruption issues related to natural resources like water can cause unexpected problems. These kinds of problems often occur when the whole community is not involved in the initial stages of setting up a community initiative.

Listener, let us focus on the story of the Gravity Flow Scheme from southeastern Tanzania and how it has progressed since its inception in 2001. First, we will hear from two community members.

Community member 1:
Thank you, our host. I am Kyomukama Roset, a beneficiary of Nyabikungu water project that was started in 2001 by the Machinjoni District. The idea was presented by our councillor and then taken to the district level. The district officials then came down to the community and identified a water source. Then the government officials sat down with the community members to talk with them about the project. Later on, we saw people building a structure at the main water source, with tanks and pipes that ran through the community. We were able to access the water at tap stands that were strategically placed to serve a good number of community members. The system was installed for us by the district free of charge. We have been using the water without paying, unless there are minor breakages. The main breakages are fixed by the district.

Community member 2:
I am Kentaro Grace, a beneficiary of the Nyabikungu Gravity Flow Scheme. When the project started, I remember that we welcomed it and even contributed some money. The tap stands were installed centrally to serve the different villages equally.

After a while, we realized that some water was missing. But we didn’t know why. So we reported it to the tap stand committee representatives, who are responsible for correcting the problem. We later found out that some rich people had made illegal connections. That is why there was water missing, and why we had to go the main source for water. The well that we had been using has dirty water because it was abandoned. So we had to travel a long way to get to the main source for clean water.

Yes, listener, from these two community members we understand that the Gravity Flow Scheme is a service from the government to the community. We heard how the government and the community ensure that the scheme operates well by making various contributions, for example when repairs are needed. Let’s hear from Cheburet. He has been the scheme attendant since the beginning of the project. He tells his side of the story after a short musical break.

Musical break
Thank you for the opportunity. It was the councillor of Nyabikungu ward who brought the water issue to the government’s attention and really got this started. In his area, there was a lot of water. But he felt that not enough was being done by the government to keep the water safe. So the government bought the land on which the main source was located. The government then bought different pieces of land where water tanks were erected. Then they bought the pipes and taps. The agreed number of tap stands was 71. These were all installed at intervals to serve those who lived near the taps.

When the project started, I was trained by the district on general management of the scheme. I was present throughout the building and installation stage. After the scheme was in place, I was given keys to the water points, the main source, the inlets and all the outlets that serve the larger community. At first, my job was to work on the 71 tap stands and ensure that all the pipe problems were solved.

The first significant problem I experienced was in 2003, and then again in 2004. There was a lot of rain, and silting blocked the water inlets, so that little water was received by the community. Because the Central Gravity Flow Scheme Committee members are also users, they took the problem to the sub-county. They sent an expert and together we fixed the problem. This helped the situation, and then the community received water as usual.

Thank you, Cheburet, for the information. We have heard how the government intended to help its community. They bought the land on which the water collects through gravity flow, and they bought the land where the tanks were erected. They then bought all the resources like pipes and taps and installed the whole water project. As proposed, all 71 tap stands were installed. Cheburet had faced some challenges but was able to fix them. Would you tell us what happened after?

Yes. There were complaints from community members that they were not receiving water. Or they would receive very little water without good pressure. This caused a scramble for water at some tap stands.

When I heard this, I tried to find out why it was happening. I discovered that some people had installed taps in their homes and tapped the water illegally. This interfered with the normal flow. These were people who could afford to buy all the equipment that was required to install the water in their homes. These people called their own plumbers without the knowledge of the Gravity Flow Scheme Committee or the attendant.

You see, sometimes there is water rationing. But some people did not want to go without water even for a short time. With illegal connections, they have water even when it is rationed. Also, they kept animals that needed a lot of water. They wanted to ensure that they didn’t lack water for their animals and their many other uses. So they installed their taps at night. But the capacity of the system was only 71 taps. This meant that the system was overloaded. So some community members did not receive water, because it was redirected to these illegal taps.

Because I did not have the authority to interfere with the illegal connections, I reported this to the committee. The committee reported it to the district. But the government never took any action. Instead, they just said that these other people need water too. So I could not do anything about it. It was as if they were giving bribes to the district water people to do the illegal connections. That is why nobody talked about it.

You see, I am not paid for what I do. Considering the distance from which I travel to get to the main source, it is not easy for me to attend to all the problems. I get paid if I do repairs and then make a requisition to the sub-county. This may be once or twice in a month. I am never paid to clean up the water points or around the tanks or tap stands. But the community would not even consider cleaning up themselves around the water collection point. They believe that I am paid to do everything, even the cleaning.

Listeners, did you hear what Cheburet said? How some people infringe on other community members’ rights to equally enjoy water? The community wants Cheburet to understand and solve all the problems without complaining, because he was trained by the government. But Cheburet is also frustrated with the situation. He says that, though the government has the authority to stop the illegal connections, they do not take any action. He feels they have a hand in the illegal connections.

Let us hear now from an intervener. Jacob works with Kajimbo Farm Training Centre. This organization trained the tap stands committee members to advocate for their right to access water. Let us hear how Jacob helped the community.

Our organization came in to help the community understand how they could contribute to the success of the scheme. The relations between the attendant and the community were tense. They felt that he was not a member of the community for which the water project was built. They thought that he was a government employee who was paid to do all the work. But this is not true. Some community members insisted that he should clean up around the water points. Or else he should be chased away and the keys taken from him. The reality is that the community members do not co-operate with the attendant. This causes daily conflicts. If these problems are not addressed, the scheme attendant may even be beaten by the community.

Because of these kinds of issues, the Kajimbo Farm Training Centre sensitized the community. The community chose a trusted person to present their position on radio talk shows that were facilitated by an organization called The Agents of Change. We believe that there are enough tap stands to serve the community if the scheme works according to plan. But some rich community members feel they should not have to queue for water like other community members. Other community members suffer from this. The government, we believe, had a hand in this situation. They never responded to these situations. And, after all, the scheme was installed for the community by the government. Currently, over 200 taps have been installed. But the illegal connections have interfered with the system so that, when there are no rains, the water must be rationed.

There is also a problem with rationing. In some areas, the people with illegal connections have installed water tanks that they fill when water is rationed. When this happens, some community members do not receive water at all. Instead of the water flowing to the community tap stands, it is diverted to fill these illegal tanks before it reaches the community. These kinds of conflicts arise to such an extent that some community members have threatened to break the Gravity Flow Scheme’s main tank so that everybody would suffer.

Listener, Jacob feels that the community has not yet found a way to make the gravity flow scheme work for everyone. According to Jacob, the community feels that the government has been receiving money from rich families for illegal connections. The community has been frustrated because the illegal connections mean they have to go without water for some time.

Listener, after a short musical break we will hear from a government representative. Clement works for the sub-county government through which the scheme was initiated.

Musical break

I am a community development officer for the sub-county, and I serve as the water focal point officer. In the Central Gravity Flow Scheme, we work with the Agents of Change and Kajimbo Farm Training Centre. The Central Gravity Flow Scheme was a district government project from 2001 until 2009. In 2009, it was handed over to the sub-county, which I represent. The sub-county works directly with community representatives.

After the scheme was handed over to the sub-county, we told the Gravity Flow Scheme Committee members that we thought there was a need for a guidance policy. The committee members shared this with the tap stand committees. And through these committees, they gathered different views on how the Central Gravity Flow Scheme could best be run. After collecting community ideas, the main committee drafted a policy in the local language.

The need for a guidance policy arose after concerns that there was some corruption in the earlier management structure. Some community members have heard rumours. They say that, because the scheme attendant is not from their community, he must be receiving money from rich people to help with illegal connections. The Central Gravity Flow Scheme Committee has also been accused of co-operating with the illegal connecters and receiving money from them not to cut off their connections. Before 2009, some in the community wondered whether the government was receiving bribes for these illegal connections.

To stop further problems, we now have a written policy that all those with illegal connections will be given water meters. In a few months from now, they will start paying a monthly fee, based on how much water they use.

For some time, the community has felt that they do not have a voice and that they are powerless to act on these illegal connections. This may have been true in the past. But the new policy clearly states the role of each person in the scheme. The community members know that they can penalize those who are cheating the scheme. The policy states that those who engage in negative practices will be taken to the police and charged.

The problem is that the tap stand committees and even the main committee are weak. The only solution is to change the leadership; then things will work out right. The community has chosen their own person, who they felt would serve them well as the scheme attendant. When the leadership changes, the committees will start collecting a little money every month from every water user. This will help pay the attendant. It will pay for repairs, and for general maintenance of the scheme, and even to buy gumboots for those who work with the water system.

These kinds of issues are common not only in this community, but in other districts too.

This scheme was a learning process for all. We have learned that, if the government wants to establish a project within a community, it should be done from the beginning in a participatory manner with community involvement.

Musical break

Listener, if you were keen, what advice would you give to this community? It appears dishonesty is possible at all levels. By the scheme attendant, by the committee members, by the water users, and by the government who introduced the initiative. Listener, this is a lesson to take home and learn how to do it better in your community. Just like the water focal point officer said, get the community involved from the beginning so that everyone understands their roles. This is the way to avoid bad practices and blame games. It is very important that the community exercises ownership. This is the most important basis of any project.

This brings us to the end of our program today. Hoping that you learned something, this is (name of host). Thank you and bye.


Contributed by: Senior Writer Rachel Awuor, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Kenya, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
Reviewed by: Erik Nielsen, Manager Country Based Programmes, Water Integrity Network and Alexandra Malmqvist, Assistant Communications Coordinator, Water Integrity Network.

Information sources

Interviews with beneficiaries, council members, committee members, community development officer, journalist, and project coordinators, May 28, 2010.