Water Sanitation and Hygiene in Tanzania

WASH Crisis Explained

Water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania is a major issue plaguing many communities in rural areas. In 2015, only about 24 percent of the population had access to at least basic sanitation17 percent in rural areas.

Access to safe water, proper sanitation, and hygiene education was declared human rights at the 2010 United Nations General Assembly. But in countries around the world, major issues continue to surround WASH, the collective term used for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. 

Maji Safi Group is focused specifically on the WASH crisis in rural Tanzania where the systems providing clean and safe water, improved sanitation efforts, and health education are often nonexistent or corrupt. Many residents are struggling to have their basic needs met, and most rural populations are plagued by preventable diseases due to the lack of sanitation, clean water, and knowledge of disease prevention. Though this crisis is still serious, Tanzania has continued to see improvements in all these areas over the past decade, and Maji Safi Group is committed to helping bring an end to this crisis. Let’s explore each area of WASH to see how both individuals and whole communities are being affected across Tanzania.


As part of its Vision 2025, the Government of Tanzania has pledged to increase access to improved sanitation to 95 percent by 2025. 

Today, diseases caused by poor water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania result in 4.2% of global deaths. In addition, in Tanzania, 9% of all mortality in children under five years of age is due to diarrhea. This number has shown slight improvement since 2003 when the mortality rate in the same age group exceeded 17 percent. 

Issues that arise due to poor water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania include the development of:

  • Diarrhea
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid fever
  • Skin infections
  • Eye infections
  • Malaria

Without water sanitation and hygiene, exposed fecal matter can be transferred back into food and other clean water resources, spreading serious diseases and illnesses. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are crucial but often underplayed parts of the prevention and control of numerous diseases. 

Importance of water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania include:

  • Provides nourishment
  • Prevents disease
  • Help the body get rid of toxins
  • Required for agriculture and food production


In 1990, 76 percent of the global population had access to safe drinking water and 54 percent had access to adequate sanitation facilities. Then in 2015, the numbers climbed to more than 91 percent with access to safe drinking water, and 68 percent with improved access to sanitation. 

However, in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the population drink water that derives from dangerous sources, such as surface water. Approximately 102 million people are drinking surface water.  


Twenty-five million Tanzanians lack access to safe water, and oftentimes the water they do have is miles away from their homes and heavily contaminated with dangerous pathogens. Women and children are most often in charge of collecting water for their families, and when family members get sick from unprotected water sources or other diseases, it is almost exclusively the women who must care for them. Consequently, women and girls are often away from work, school, and their homes for extended periods of time, missing out on educational and economic opportunities. 

Only 60 percent of Tanzanians get their drinking water from an improved water source, which includes piped water, public taps, tube wells, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater. However, the goal is for all Tanzanians to not only have access to improved sources but to safely manage water sources. 

While health concerns are grave, so is the educational disruption caused by poor water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania. For the current water issue to be classified as safely managed, the source must be improved and located at the household or land plot, preventing the extended travel times that keep children and women from educational and career opportunities. Poorly built infrastructure, improper operations, a limited supply chain for parts, and a lack of expertise to ensure proper preventative maintenance keep these safely managed sources from becoming a reality for Tanzanians. The need here goes beyond water bottles and filters. Tanzania needs systemic change to its water systems!


Water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania (WASH) is an ongoing crisis for citizens of this diverse country.

Eighty percent of rural Tanzanians rely on unimproved sanitation facilities, pit latrines without platforms or slabs, or in the worst-case scenario – open defecation. To prevent water and food contamination and the spread of disease, facilities need to be in place that prevents human contact with human waste. The improved facilities needed are pit latrines with a slab or composting toilets with flush or pour capabilities that drain to a sewer, septic tank, or an additional pit latrine. But most rural communities lack the necessary resources to build good latrines as well as the understanding of how unsanitary practices affect both personal and public health. Schools often lack access to adequate latrines for their students which can be particularly damaging for young women who end up dropping out because there is no clean, private toilet for them to use while at school. There is much work to be done to build these safely managed sanitation resources, and there is a need for proper education on why they are so key to creating healthy, thriving communities.

water sanitation and hygiene in tanzania crisis


Another major need in Tanzania is access to education and resources on proper hygiene. Seventeen percent of people have no place to properly wash their hands, and even when they do have hand-washing facilities, they often do not have soap and clean water. This is a major issue in schools where 84 percent do not have a proper place for students to wash their hands. There is a desperate need to help build these hand-washing facilities and give families the resources to practice good hygiene that will prevent health issues and diseases.

water sanitation and hygiene in tanzania

Causes of Water Pollution in Tanzania

In rural Tanzania, water contamination plagues many communities. Unclean water sources are the primary cause of countless preventable diseases such as cholera, typhoid, intestinal worms, amoebas, schistosomiasis, chronic diarrhea, and malaria. According to the World Health Organization, it estimated that throughout Africa, 115 people die every hour from diseases linked to improper hygiene, poor sanitation, and contaminated water. Taking a look at some of the causes of water pollution in Tanzania can help us to focus on preventative measures.  This is why Maji Safi Group is committed to educating Tanzanians about these issues and how to address them.

Some of the main sources of water contamination in Tanzania’s rural communities are: open defecation, sewage, bathing at water sources, doing laundry and washing dishes at water sources, agricultural runoff, factory pollution, household waste pollution, fishing industry pollution, and general waste from businesses.

To identify and prevent water contamination, each source must be examined for its accessibility and quality. These are questions often used to identify water contamination at a source: 

  • Is it an unprotected source, such as an open well, ditch, or pond? 
  • Do people wade, wash clothes, or bathe near the collection point? 
  • Are pit toilets or sewage close to the water source? 
  • Is there garbage in or very close to the water source? 
  • Are there snails in the water or living on the bank?
  • Does algae grow on the surface?

Contamination can occur upstream and cause disease downstream. In other words, if a village upstream has unsanitary practices, it will affect villages downstream. Thus, if unsanitary conditions are found, the implications downstream must be taken into consideration. 


Expanding populations and emerging human development activities greatly contribute to the contamination of water sources in urban areas of Tanzania. The causes of water pollution in Tanzania in more rural areas, however, is mainly due to the lack of access to an improved source of safe water. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, approximately 30 million citizens don’t have access to improved sanitation. 

As a result of inaccessibility to sanitation, people in these regions – particularly women and girls – are pressed to travel long distances to collect clean water. With a better understanding of the causes of water pollution in Tanzania, more are able to improve circumstances as it relates to water. More than a quarter of the population spends more than half an hour per trip to collect water. This task can prevent many from attending school, particularly girls. 

The majority of the population in these rural communities continue to depend on rivers, lakes, ponds, and irrigation canals as the main source of drinking water. The demand for clean water continues to increase due to both population growth and climate change. In response to the general causes of water pollution in Tanzania, many are moving toward the trend of utilization of groundwater as the main water source for domestic purposes.


Many preventable diseases caused by unsanitary water sources are damaging the livelihoods of Tanzanians. Here are a few: 

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease passed through snails. It is often a chronic illness that can damage internal organs and impair growth and cognitive development in children. Symptoms can often go undetected for years. Schistosomiasis can be eliminated by getting rid of the water-dwelling snails – thus the importance of examining sources for the presence of such snails. 

Cholera is a highly contagious disease that left untreated can cause death in mere hours. It is caused by the ingestion of bacteria from water or food sources. After ingestion, it causes severe diarrhea. Prevention of cholera lies in improved sanitation practices and water sources. 

Typhoid is a bacterial infection that leads to high fevers, diarrhea, and vomiting. It is caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi. It often occurs in places where hand washing is neglected, and it is passed through contaminated drinking water or food. 

These are just a few of the preventable diseases caused by contaminated water in Tanzania. Most of these diseases are completely preventable and treatable if there is an increased focus on water, sanitation, and improved hygiene practices.

SOLUTIONS FOR CLEAN WATERcauses of water pollution in Tanzania

One affordable solution to providing villages with clean water is rainwater harvesting. Rainwater is some of the cleanest, naturally occurring water available because of a natural distillation process. Rainwater is often collected from roofs and occasionally from ground or rock catchments. 

The only disadvantage to using rainwater is possible contamination from animals, insects, or algae growth in or on catchment surfaces. These surfaces can act as a breeding ground for disease if they are not properly maintained.


In general, poverty is a huge barrier to access water and sanitation. Unfortunately, sub-Saharan countries in Africa are among the world’s poorest areas. According to the Brookings Institute, those living in poverty in the sub-Saharan region grew from 287 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. 

Some of the measures taken to address the various causes of water pollution in Tanzania include:

  • Promoting household adoption of latrines
  • Installing hand-washing facilities in program villages
  • Improving long-term water care and education

Maji Safi’s approach incorporates some of these same methodologies, particularly focused on education through WASH. Improvements to established programs are having a positive impact on communities. Cumulative results show:

  • 635,000 residents reached
  • 225,000 people taught through WASH lessons

More information on these efforts can be found here.

“Maji Safi” means “clean water” in Swahili. Our mission from the start has been to bring clean, protected water sources to rural Tanzanians. We know that when the proper steps are taken, people are educated, and systematic changes are made, lives will be saved, diseases will be prevented, and opportunities for Tanzanians will abound. Do your part and help prevent water contamination in Tanzania!

water pollution crisis tanzania