eWaterPay transforming access to clean water in Tanzania on BBC Radio 4
eWaterPay has been featured on BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. Read the transcript below or listen from minute 11.23 onwards.
“It looks picturesque but in reality, it’s a hard, daily slog, usually for women carrying buckets of water on their head, a familiar sight still in Sub-Saharan Africa. But there is some progress, Chloe Farand has been to see how a new high-tech scheme [eWaterPay] has been working in a village in Northern Tanzania.
“The Village Water Committee meeting is running nearly two hours late, and unfortunately, we arrived on time. Next to me an old woman wrapped in layers of colourful patterned fabric sits still, her eyes shut seemingly detached from her surroundings. Further along the bench, a middle-aged man wearing an oversized brown shirt is texting on his phone. We wait. Sheltered from the scorching sun, the hall is one of the few concrete buildings in this Northern Tanzanian village. It is vastly furnished with just three long benches and an old teacher’s desk. Rajabu takes his seat at the front of the room. A tall slim man with piercing dark eyes and a soft voice. He is the secretary of the Village Water Committee. Here, everybody knows him. This is the man we’ve come to meet. At nearly 60 years old, Rajabu has become the local tech guru.
Over the last two years, he has overseen a project lead by [eWaterPay] a small British company that has transformed the villager’s access to clean water. This farming village, doesn’t look like a tech hub. Almost exactly halfway down the African continent, you reach it by taking a sharp right turn off the tarred road, onto a dirt track. Endanachan lies a short ride away on the back of a Chinese made motorbike taxi, to the fertile land of the Rift Valley. Scattered houses made of red earth bricks, branches and tin roofs, lie among fields of green maize that overlook Lake Babati, known for it’s hippopotamuses.
Every household in the village has at least one mobile phone. But besides a few solar powered generators, only the school, the health dispensary and a few houses here are connected to the electricity grid. Everyone depends on shared taps (communally owned by the village) for clean water. Collecting water is considered a woman’s job. It takes strength to carry the heavy buckets back home and until recently, it took patience, a lot of patience to get them filled at all. Women here used to queue up for hours. Sometimes from sunrise to mid-day, to collect water from one of the old brass taps. A water vendor would hold the key to a padlock, controlling the tap, and collected money for each bucket filled, which was meant to be handed over to the Village Water Committee. Being a vendor was not a full time job, so the queue for water would ever get longer, as women waited for the seller to return from the fields, get back from church, or wake up after a long session drinking locally brewed beer. But not anymore.
The old taps have been upgraded with internet connected and solar-powered smart meters that operate using magnetic tags, which look like large coins. Villagers load up their tags with water credits, which they buy with cash from the dozen local sellers. At the tap, women hold their tags against the meter to get the water flowing. Clean water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes, can now be collected twenty-four hours a day and all the money collected can go towards maintenance. A woman removes her tag when the bucket is filled and the tap shuts off. She lifts the bright yellow bucket onto her head and carries it home without spilling a drop. With the water vendors gone, the long queues have disappeared in the village, and women have more time to work in the fields, even earning a little extra money.
Rajabu shows me how he can track the village’s water consumption in real time, using the system’s [eWaterPay] app on his smartphone. As with all technology, the process isn’t always smooth, but he has learned to persevere. Rajabu was not born in Endanachan, he came to the village as a young man, to cultivate its fertile soil. He struggled to get a large farm as land traditionally passes on within families. Instead, he has earned the villager’s respect through his dedication to keeping the taps running. But Endanachan is going through a population boom, the water supply system has attracted people from far afield and the demand for water is rising fast. “If nothing is done to expand the system soon, we will be forced to go back to our old ways”, Rajabu tells me sadly. Technology [eWaterPay] here has made a real difference to the way people access water, but the balance between supply and demand is still, very fragile.”
eWaterPay insights on the village of Endanachan, Tanzania