On a sunny hill overlooking a valley of shrubs, yellow grass and maize, Deodat Madembwe watches a team of masons make bricks for an elementary school he’s building.
As a young man growing up in central Tanzania, Madembwe too was a mason. Back then the most popular way to make bricks was to mould them loosely out of dirt and clay and then burn them in a tanuru – the Swahili word for a kiln. But to heat the kiln was to wreak havoc on the local environment.
“People cut trees to burn bricks,” he explained. To burn enough bricks for about five houses, they’d have to fell 10, even 20 trees. Burning the trees releases CO², contributing to climate change, and deforestation means there are fewer trees left to combat it. As Tanzania’s population grew, more and more houses arose and the landscape suffered. “We [were] making a desert,” said Madembwe.
But today, on a sunny plateau above Mbeya, the masonry unfolding before Madembwe’s eyes is of an entirely different breed. Two men with shovels quickly mix dirt they’ve sifted with a bit of sand and cement. They add water and shovel the mixture into a small steel device. A third man closes the heavy metal lid and pulls down hard on a long green lever. He releases, and a perfectly rectangular gray brick rises up.
NGOs, governments and local cooperatives have been experimenting with so-called compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEB), a green alternative to tree-consuming burnt bricks, on a small scale for years. But they may soon rise to global prominence, prompted in part by interest from an unlikely party: the largest cement manufacturer in the world.
Often, journalists conducting long-term investigative projects don’t contact the entity they’re investigating until the very end, when there’s less time for the subject to interfere with the reporting process. But a recent experience in which I did just the opposite showed me the enormous benefits that can come with engaging the target of your investigation and being transparent about the story you intend to write from the very start.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For 50 years, foreign do-gooders who wished to improve access to water in Africa went about it basically the same way. They’d dig a well or build a water pump for free. Then they’d hand off the project to the local community — leaving the responsibility, and the financial burden, of maintaining it up to them.
And yet, for the same 50 years, that model hasn’t worked. Wells run out of water. Fuel for electrical generators to pump water becomes expensive. Pipes spring leaks. And rural communities where most people live on less than $2 a day can’t come up with the money to fix it all.
So perhaps it is no surprise that aid money has not solved Tanzania’s notorious water crisis. But even as the $1.4 billion Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) showed signs it was not working after five years, the World Bank and other organizations provided even more money without first investing in identifying new solutions to old problems.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — The water sector in Tanzania once resembled the Wild West. The government did little to ensure that every person had access to clean and safe water.
Donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worked to solve the problem, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. But there was a flaw, explained Amani Mafuru, an engineer for rural water supply in Tanzania.
“One development partner can go to a region and then another comes to the same place,” he said. “So there was a tendency to favor certain parts of the country.”
In 2006, the Tanzanian government launched the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) to do things differently. When it came to constructing rural water points under the WSDP, decisions were not going to be set in Washington DC, nor in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma.
Instead, WSDP managers would let communities decide for themselves what sort of water system they wanted to build.
Read what happened next in Part 3 of a GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost.
LUPETA, Tanzania — It’s a full day’s bus ride from Dar es Salaam to the district of Mpwapwa in north-central Tanzania. It is here that the earliest signs appeared of trouble ahead for Tanzania’s ambitious water development program.
Engineers dug boreholes in 2004 and 2005 to get at water trapped deep in the ground in Mpwapwa and in 13 other places across the country in a precursory step of a failed $1.42 billion water initiative supported by the World Bank, known as the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP).
The idea was to learn how expensive it would be to create functioning water points, how long they’d take to build and how best to establish “community water councils” capable of keeping the water flowing. Leaders would learn from mistakes on a few pilot projects and work out all the kinks before the plan went national. But critics say those lessons went unlearned. Read the full story here.
This is Part Two of a series produced by The GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost, funded by the Galloway Family Foundation.
By Jacob Kushner and Tom Murphy
In 2006, the World Bank launched an unprecedented drive to fix Tanzania’s water crisis once and for all. In the past, international donors funded different projects in the country’s water sector. This time, the World Bank would provide Tanzania with the financial and technical support to organize them to pool their money together, in a grand experiment that combined rural and urban water resource management into one plan.
To date the drive has attracted more than $1.42 billion in funding from various donors and the Tanzanian government, an incredible sum for a single project in a small country like Tanzania. The initial goal was ambitious: to bring improved access to water to 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites by 2010, and continue until each and every citizen had safe drinking water.
By all metrics, the project has failed categorically.
Read Part One in the series: Seven years and $1.4 billion into an unprecedented, World Bank-led collaboration to improve water access in Tanzania, a grand experiment in development aid has achieved none of its goals.
Coca-Cola is partnering with governments, NGOs, and other companies to improve access to water, occupying a gray area where genuine charity meets corporate profit.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For years the Mlalakua River overflowed with garbage during each heavy rain. Homes would flood with water contaminated by sewage and trash. Even in the dry season, the narrow river had a nasty grayish hue, the product of runoff from the factories situated alongside it, residents and local water experts say.
Some here call the Mlalakua River by a different name: the Coca-Cola River. The nickname comes from the red-brown hue of the water. But it may also reflect the fact that among those factories that line the river’s banks is a Coca-Cola bottling plant, one of three in Tanzania. As the world’s largest beverage retailer and one of its most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola goes to great lengths to protect its image. And a few years ago, someone at the company seems to have realized that being associated with a garbage-filled river was putting the company’s local reputation very much at risk.
So in 2012, Coca-Cola entered into a public-private partnership, or PPP, aimed at cleaning the river. The company — partnering with nearly a dozen government entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other private companies — would dredge the sludge and garbage from the river, then engage the locals in a plan to keep it clean.
But there are currents of criticism about the project — both from local residents and from a number of NGOs that focus on sustainable development. Critics wonder whether the cleanup was intended to achieve genuine and lasting change or to advance the short-term public relations goals of a multinational corporation. Indeed, most water experts and residents interviewed by GlobalPost say the Mlalakua River cleanup was inherently flawed. They say that while the river is undeniably cleaner, the project did not address the root causes of the pollution: the absence of a sewer system and trash collection for the communities along the river’s banks.
A two-month investigation examines what happens when motives of good will and profit mix.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Last year, Coca-Cola announced a $100 million partnership with the International Finance Corporation to provide business skills training and micro-loans to “empower” women — those who sell Coca-Cola products, that is.
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The program has already involved 200,000 women in Nigeria who “touch the Coca-Cola value chain,” according to the company. For instance, a woman might receive a loan to buy water from a local Coke bottler and resell it in bulk, or a farmer who grows fruit used in Coca-Cola products might receive a loan to increase her crop yield. Watchdogs say the project, ironically called the Banking on Women initiative, is merely a savvy way for Coca-Cola to increase its own reach in the country while diverting so-called development funding from the International Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the World Bank, to subsidize Coca-Cola’s profit-seeking activity.
A successful Coca-Cola partnership in Tanzania to better distribute medicine across the country shows that not all public-private partnerships have to be self-serving.
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DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage retailer, has an unparalleled ability to get its goods to anyone and everyone. In Tanzania, Coca-Cola reaches areas where even essential medicines and life-saving medical supplies do not. An incredible 35 to 40 percent of all orders for medicine from Tanzania’s 5,000 health centers go unfilled due to “stock-outs.” The drugs simply don’t arrive.
If Coca-Cola can reach all corners of Tanzania, why not medicine? At last it is beginning to, thanks to Project Last Mile, a partnership that is helping to fix a number of kinks in the medical distribution process.
Like their colleagues in many other countries, public school teachers here lead huge classes for shrinking pay. Some warn they won’t put up with it much longer.
ARUSHA, Tanzania — Five days a week, Caroline Benedict Kessy stands before a class of 77 third-grade students and struggles to devise a way to teach all of them how to read and write.
The other two days she spends at home baking wedding cakes to sell. Each cake earns her an average of 300,000 shillings (about $187 US). That’s equivalent to half her monthly teaching salary for just one day of baking.
She isn’t alone. Kessy, 46, is among the tens of thousands of public school teachers in Tanzania who face monumental class sizes for meager pay. Many work two or three jobs to supplement their income, and some quit education altogether.
“Someone was working here for three years and then she (gave) up to sell stationary and phones,” said Kessy. Now, “she’s making more money than we do.”