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Uhakika wa Maji! Citizen-action, accountability monitoring and advocacy for water and climate security in Africa

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Tanzania’s development and the wellbeing of its people are tightly bound to our ability to manage water resources sustainability and equitably, particularly given our very variable and changing climate. Our institutional framework for water resource management (WRM) is progressive and modelled on the principles of IWRM, but limited implementation has led to escalating conflict between users, unabated pollution, resource degradation and depletion, and extreme vulnerability to water and climate shocks, especially for poor and marginalised communities. Poor WRM means our economy and people are hostage to a cycle of debilitating flood and drought events which are becoming more frequent and severe (World Bank,2017). We launched the Uhikaka wa Maji (Fair Water Futures) Initiative in 2012 to shine a light on these problems, track-down their root causes, and to stimulate system change. We found that the business model for WRM was flawed: government authorities received only around 10% of funding needed to ensure climate and water security. With such inadequate budgets, it is simply impossible to hire the people or undertake the work needed to protect water-users. The importance of WRM and the need for sustainable financing was a dangerous blind spot for decision-makers in government and the donor community.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Inspired by high-impact civil-society accountability monitoring in health and education, we worked with partners, communities and government to develop the ‘Uhakika wa Maji’ approach: a 3-stage process of activating citizen voice, accountability monitoring and evidence-based advocacy. We identified communities facing difficult water problems: floods, droughts, conflict, pollution, lack of water tenure and representation, and helped them tell their stories. We trained ‘Mashahdi’ - community change-agents on their rights and how to use letters of complaint, multi-stakeholder meetings and legal process to ‘activate’ duty-bearers, to hold them to account against statutory responsibilities for water/climate security. In some cases, effective action was taken. In others, we were able to diagnose why no action was taken. Targeted budget analysis confirmed that the root-cause of poor performance on WRM was inadequate human and financial resources. Some Basin Offices received as little as 4% of funding needed (GoT/TaWaSaNET,2019). We packaged the evidence into ‘constructive’ advocacy via TV and radio shorts, films and reports. Alongside clear rationale for change we presented solutions, including a financial model which would see water users pay a proper price for abstraction, and a risk-based approach to WRM to prioritise resources. Targeting State Ministers and decision-makers we were able to stimulate action. As well as improved water security for over 1 million people through enforcement, investment, and planning, we triggered the Water Resource Management (Fee-Setting) Regulations 2019, and commitment to risk-based WRM in the 2020 National Water Policy. Through properly resourced WRM these changes will improve resilience for >50 Million Tanzanians.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

Tanzania suffers regular and intensifying floods and droughts which threaten to derail the country’s development ambition of reaching middle-income status by 2025 (through losses in agriculture, hydro-electric power generation and municipal supply ). Inadequate WRM undermines planning and delivery of resilient water use, and flood/drought response. For example, the dysfunctional hydrometric network means that strategic allocation decisions are made in the absence of reliable data. Available resources are polluted, catchments degraded and use unregulated: 10% of water-users have permits. the result is extreme vulnerability: neither water users nor government can plan for water use within sustainable limits, or mitigate against operational disruptions to domestic, municipal, industrial, agricultural, hydro-electric or environmental water use in the event of dry years or flood events. revised funding arrangements and risk-based approach can support effective wrm and strategic resilience planning for the first time.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

The evidence generated by Uhakika is used by communities and civil-society to ‘speak truth to power’ at the annual Joint Water Sector Review (JWSR), and within the water-sector dialogue’s Thematic Working Groups. According to the Secretariat of the Donor Partner Group on Water, our concrete evidence packaged in compelling ways: ‘‘sent shockwaves through the sector; particularly by highlighting funding shortfalls”. In 2014, because of our advocacy, the JWSR formally resolved to find an alternative financing mechanism for WRM. Ensuring delivery required sustained and consistent calls for change from within our growing coalition (DFID, World Bank, WWF, WaterAid, GIZ, over 30 CSOs). We also used our influence within the National Water Board and fora such as 2030WRG to secure change. The ‘Financing Options Study’ was finally commissioned (2017) and resulted in the Fee-Setting Regulations 2019. Independent evaluation is planned to verify our contributions. Through ‘Uhakika’ we have been able to drive resilience more broadly by connecting the voices and experiences of vulnerable people on the ground to policy and decision-making. Our case at flood-ravaged Gulwe revealed weak coordination between Disaster Management Committees and Basin Offices and helped those affected to demand early-warning systems, better land-use planning and budget allocation for disaster mitigation.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

The kind of meaningful change achieved by Uhakika through accountability monitoring and advocacy requires focused, long-term commitment by civil society which is not well provided for by ‘traditional’ sector support mechanisms and funding. We began our journey in 2009, ten years before the regulations were passed, and it has been hard to secure the relatively minimal funding needed. Far-sighted, flexible and committed donors are key! This has enabled us to attract and retain the professionals who can generate technically-strong evidence and engage communities, partners and government in constructive ways to avoid politicisation, reprisals and conflict - a particular challenge given new legislation in Tanzania which restricts the production and use of data. Investing in building relationships, legitimacy brought by technical rigor and bargaining for the public good from the position of a 'critical friend' to government have been important. It was also a challenge was to engage with sometimes bureaucratic government systems and get consensus with the bigger global organisations who could negotiate with government and finance the studies. High staff turnover in both government and donor organisations and top-down leadership tend to maintain the status quo and undermine the focus, autonomy and dynamism needed to make change happen.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

We see Uhakika is part of a longer-term process of strengthening accountable relationships between active citizens, responsive governments, and appropriate aid to ensure sustainable development. Climate resilience in Tanzania is likely to cost USD650 million/year and so our work will continue to realise this investment. Our ability to sustain this work has been a key objective and focus, and funding and organisational development are secure for the next 3 years. This will ensure that civil-society oversight continues with the tenacity required. Beyond this, we are hopeful that change will be sustainable: it has government ownership, is embedded in law, and is focused on generating sustainable revenue for the work of climate resilience. It is mutually beneficial for duty-bearers and water-users: it is in everyone’s interest to ensure a fairer, more resilient water future. Targeted funding over longer-timescales would help scale and deepen this high value-for-money sector strengthening work.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

As a pioneering initiative, a learning-centred approach has been vital. Rigorous monitoring, and externally evaluation/learning have supported adaptive management, attribution, and sharing of insights. Lessons include: - Social accountability monitoring is potentially highly effective in unlocking community water and climate security, and system change, but requires dedicated human/financial resources, political sensitivity, and intelligent, long-term support. - Long-term relationship building, and ‘constructive’ bargaining for change through sector dialogue platforms works well in some political economy contexts. - Community and governance ‘dynamics’ of accountability, and optimal means of external assistance require further exploration so that the full contribution towards realising SDGs, social justice and resilience (including COVID-19) can be realised. We have worked with partners to publish lessons, and train and sensitise over 200 civil-society and government actors across Africa and globally. We are now Tanzania lead in the Accountability for Water Programme which supports the growing global community of practice.