With the restrictions on movement and massive disruption of supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, maintenance and development of infrastructure has been stalled in many parts of the world. This has had consequences for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, which prioritise access to clean water and sanitation.
In the Makonde Plateau of southern Tanzania, however, CRIDF’s support has helped the local water authority overcome formidable challenges to complete Phase I of the Water Supply Upgrades, which followed rehabilitation of the Mitema Wellfields.
The Makonde Plateau supports 500,000 people across many scattered homesteads and four small towns. It is an area of high rainfall, but there is little surface water and groundwater is located too deep to be easily accessible. When CRIDF first identified Makonde as an appropriate project for improvement of water infrastructure, about 90% of its population was connected to the Makonde Water Supply and Sanitation Authority, but only 40% received intermittent supply.
Following rehabilitation of the Mitema Wellfields, completed in November 2017, the Water Supply Upgrades project sought to boost the reliability of the water supply and increase distribution capacity. The £1.4 million contract included rehabilitation of the aeration towers and water tanks, replacement of pumping and dosing equipment, and duplication of over 8 kilometres of pipelines so the increased production capacity could be delivered to settlements across the Makonde Plateau.
This was a major undertaking on its own terms, but COVID-19 was not even the biggest obstacle to completing Phase 1. Peter Morris, Design Lead of the project, explains that the ongoing Cabo Delgado insurgency in Mozambique, which spilled over the border and led to fatalities close to the project site in 2019, led to the suspension of works till January 2020.
The onset of the pandemic complicated matters further, but Morris notes that the project was successfully continued by ‘remote control’ – largely through WhatsApp conversations between himself, based in Zimbabwe, the Programme Management Unit in South Africa, a senior engineer in the capital Dar-es-Salaam, and an on-site engineer. Nevertheless, the difficulties in making field visits did not prevent CRIDF from supporting the water authority in carrying out consultations with the communities, for instance in cases where the proposed pipelines passed through cashew orchards, and required trees to be cut down. Communities were also informed about any disruptions to water supply. The use of in-country experts by CRIDF proved pivotal in keeping the construction phase moving during COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The works carried out under Water Supply Upgrades Phase 1 have now been handed over and the impact on regular water supply to communities is expected not only to enhance the quality of life and health of beneficiaries but also to kickstart growth in the local economy. Life as we know it may have slowed down, but in the Makonde Plateau, water is flowing faster than ever.