While life may be wonderful for tourists visiting Zanzibar, the eastern Tanzanian archipelago renowned for its tranquillity and the unspoilt beauty of its beaches, most urban and rural communities on the islands suffer from poor living conditions and an inadequate supply of clean and safe water.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tanzania is now backing the development of six water projects intended to provide adequate water supply and sanitation for more than 45,000 people on the largest island of Unguja (popularly known as Zanzibar) and its sister island, Pemba.
"It is the expectation of UNDP that women in Zanzibar will stop having to walk long distances to fetch water," said acting Resident Representative Inyang Ebong-Harstrup, marking the formal launch of the water supply project.
The population of the Zanzibar islands is estimated at 820,000, with an annual growth rate of some 3 percent. The population of Zanzibar Town is estimated at 250,000-plus, with a growth rate of 3.8 percent. The islands' problems include built-up areas lacking basic infrastructural services, solid waste management, water and sanitation, and flooding, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat.
A survey carried out by Save the Children (UK) in 1997 showed that only 21 percent of homes in Zanzibar had access to safe water, and 60 per cent did not have a latrine. More than 70 percent of children were infected with worms, and an alarming 60 percent were tested malaria positive. Equally worrying was the fact that local people did not know or understand the causes of malaria, according to the NGO.
Despite health training and water and sanitation interventions since, both by local and international development organisations, safe access to water and sanitation services - as well as public health and hygiene training - still leaves much to be desired, according to aid workers.
The UNDP's $245,000 funding for the water projects over two years is also an important element of the UN's backing for poverty reduction efforts currently under way in Zanzibar and on mainland Tanzania, according to Ebong-Harstrup.
"This importance is highlighted in the Zanzibar Poverty Reduction Plan, which stresses the development of water supply and sanitation systems capable of supplying rural and urban communities with safe water, and meeting hygiene and sanitation requirements," she said.
The government of Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania) and recipient communities on Unguja and Pemba will provide cash and in-kind contributions during implementation of the two-year initiative, under which two projects are being co-financed by Japan, according to the UNDP.
Ebong-Harstrup, Zanzibar Deputy Minister for Water Construction and Energy Mansur Himid, and representatives of six communities on Unguja and Pemba signed a Memorandum of Understanding on implementation of the initiative.
The UNDP funding, which falls under its small grants programme, will support the construction of a water balancing tank for the nongovernmetal development association SEMUSO and a community-based water supply scheme run by the Bumbwini Development Committee on Unguja.
On Pemba, the projects to be funded include the consolidation of a community-based water supply scheme in Ziwani; a community supply scheme in Ngwachani, Mkoani District; and the extension of existing pipelines to benefit more people in Chambani Development Committee, Mkoani District.
In addition, the initiative will see UNDP help strengthen water revenue collection efforts in Zanzibar through the Ministry of Water, Construction and Land.
The water initiative ties in with the Zanzibar Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan, under which the islands' government is due to give priority to community-based projects, better health services for the poor, better education for all, and improvement of agricultural productivity.