Poor access to drinking water is a major problem in rural Tanzania. New water points are being constructed but sustainability remains a common challenge. The 2015 national water point mapping survey (Ministry of Water, Tanzania) found that out of 86,946 rural water points, only 54 per cent were functional, 7 per cent needed repair, and 39 per cent were non-functional. As a result, about 50 per cent of people in rural areas of Tanzania do not have access to safe drinking water. Failure of rural water supply has many causes. Most rural water schemes have failed because of poor operations and maintenance attributed to low-cost recovery or revenue management (Whaleyand Cleaver 2017).
Prepaid water systems have attracted significant attention in Tanzania and are considered a game changer in ensuring sustainability of rural water services in the country. The management of these prepaid systems has been strengthened with the formation of Community-Owned Water Supply Organisations (COWSOs) covering over 1,400 villages. Prepayments by water users ensure that resources are available to operate and maintain the system. In addition, mobile payment systems and digital technologies have been introduced to enhance the ease of payment and to reduce non-revenue water (un-accounted water).Different models of the prepaid water systems are being piloted by national and international organisations.
These include the eWater system in Babati and Arusha districts supported by DFID through a consortium led by WaterAid, and the HDIF-funded Grundfos AQtaps model in Karatu district, and Susteq in Kishapu district.
Although all these technologies are very promising and have brought several advantages, what has not been clear is the extent to which the prepaid water systems have contributed to the sustainable delivery of inclusive and safe water services in rural Tanzania, a topic that this paper tries to tackle.