Water Sustainability in Zanzibar

As an island off the coast of mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar faces many challenges with sustainability of its environment and vital resources like water. Especially in rural parts of the island, clean and safe drinking water remains inaccessible and difficult to obtain. This scarcity of clean water disproportionately affects women and children, who walk miles to and from the closest water source. Time that could be devoted to education or to family is instead used for travel.

Similar to many other developing areas, Zanzibar has received foreign aid for the construction of wells, expensive energy-consuming desalination systems, and sanitation systems, which benefit the island immensely, but only on a short-term scale. Foreign aid for the installation of wells, power cables, and other infrastructural amenities prove to be useful, but failure to maintain these systems results in their inevitable downfall. Too often, wealthy foreign countries donate a service without considering community’s investment in the project. This lack of consideration for the community’s investment ultimately becomes a disservice — old degrading pipes and an unstable infrastructure that the locals cannot maintain. Whether it was due to lack of resources or education, the failure to maintain the infrastructure results in inaccessibility.

In response to this crisis, the Zanzibar Water Authority (ZAWA) is currently embarking on an Urban Water Supply & Sanitation project, which hopes to strengthen the water supply infrastructure and reform the finanical management of water distribution. ZAWA has implemented paying stations for residents to pay their water bills, but adapting to this system requires a cultural change. Urban residents now pay for a resource that had previously been free yet scarce. The future of this system seems hopeful, though universal accessibility to clean and safe water will remain a looming challenge for the island.

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