Bringing Water to Parched Tanzania

I spent the last two days with CRS partner staff in the district of Same (pronounced sa-may) in southern Tanzania. As in much of rural Africa this time of year, it is dry here, as everyone awaits the rains. But increasingly in Same, and indeed across sub-Saharan Africa, those rains are not forthcoming.

Tanzania water

Though this spigot is turned on by the local water authority only one day each week, these women are so desperate for water that they spent 45 minutes to fill just one bucket from a trickle of water left in the pipes after the water had been turned off. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

For those in the West, water shortages are rare, and when they do occur amid a particularly dry and hot summer, the repercussions are negligible. At worst, local water restrictions mean no watering the lawn or washing the car. But here in southern Tanzania, the effects of drought are nothing short of catastrophic. Today, at a small water point, I met a woman named Tatu Juma whose story is probably the best way to illustrate my point.

The village where Tatu lives – Masandare – started water rationing in 1997 when the local water authority, then newly formed, realized that there simply was not enough water to go around. Because they control the pipes that feed water to the various water points around the district, they started cutting that water off to each of the water points for four days of every week. The other days, women like Tatu would pick up a five gallon bucket and walk to the nearest point that did have water – usually no less than 4 miles away. Tatu said that if there was no line of women ahead of her when she got there, the round trip would take about two hours. If there was a line, as there usually was, it would take all day – morning to evening.

In 2002, with water in increasingly short supply, rationing was increased to five days per week. Then, in 2009, to six days a week. When I met her, Tatu was waiting with two other women to fill their buckets by a literal trickle of water – water left in the pipes from the last day of water they were allotted. She said it takes about 45 minutes to fill a single five gallon bucket at that pace, and the water lasts only half a day or so, but it saves her a more than 8-mile walk.

The good news is that CRS is working in this area on a range of water projects. I spent an hour or so with workers drilling a new bore hole more than 328 feet down, a kind of project that brings the hope of sudden and spectacular success if water is found, and which draws curious locals to look on. This is one of three boreholes CRS is drilling in the area this year, eventually providing water to more than 33,000 people. Perhaps as importantly, CRS is training residents to better manage their water resources, training trainers who in turn return to their communities with messages of water conservation and hygiene. Having seen in just these two days how dry it is here, I have no doubt that the new water will help – dramatically.

But as I head back up to Arusha tomorrow, I leave having glimpsed what I fear is the future for most of the world – a withering environment, parched by inadequate and irregular rainfall that brings with it increasing hardship for those so close to the edge. It is a wake up call for those of us too used to unlimited resources. One trip to places like Same remind you that they are, all, limited indeed.

Reported by David Snyder, a free-lance photojournalist and former CRS staffer.

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