The Tanzania Water Crisis: Facts, Progress, and How to Help

Over 24 million people are impacted by the The United Republic of Tanzania’s water crisis; that’s almost half of the population of Tanzania.

But, it’s not just about a lack of basic access to safe water. In Tanzania today, over 43 million do not practice proper sanitation. That’s the majority of people living in the country.

Together, water access, sanitation, and hygiene are referred to as “WASH,” and Tanzania is experiencing a WASH crisis. WASH impacts not only community health, but economic status, access to education, and happiness around the world.

Although challenging, the water crisis in Tanzania doesn’t define the country. Each day, parents are working hard to provide better lives for their children, and the country as a whole has seen steady growth over the last decade.

Below are the top facts you should know about the Tanzania water crisis today and how you can help bring it to an end.

Tanzania Water Crisis 2019 Facts

1. Almost Half the Population of Tanzania is Without Basic Access to Safe Water

The Joint Monitoring Programme (“JMP”), a global database on WASH around the globe, measures water access on a scale, with basic access being safe water which can be collected in a roundtrip of 30 minutes or less. Right now, 43 percent of Tanzanians are relying on water that does not meet this standard.

Women and children traditionally bear the weight of the water problems in their communities, waking early to gather water from faraway sources and making several trips each day.

Of those women and children carrying water, data shows that they are likely gathering it from unsafe sources like rivers, canals, ponds, and unprotected structures like hand-dug wells and natural springs.

Tanzania water crisis
A Tanzanian girl journeys home from her walk to the pond near her village.

2019 Progress Update

Organizations from many levels—the national government, small charities, the United Nations, and affected communities themselves—are working to end the Tanzania water crisis.

In the year 2000, 73 percent of Tanzanians were living without basic access to safe water. The most up-to-date numbers from 2017 show that the percentage was nearly halved and continues to fall.


2. About 12 Percent of the Country is Using the Bathroom Outside

The JMP reports that 12 percent of people are practicing what’s called “open defecation,” the act of defecating in fields, forests, or along the countryside.

In these communities, human feces are washed by the rain into rivers, springs, ponds, and swamps—places where many people are gathering their drinking water. This creates an unsafe environment, especially for children.

Families that drink this water experience waterborne diseases and pay expensive fees for treatment at local clinics and hospitals.

2019 Progress Update

Since 2000, when the data was first collected by the JMP, the percentage of people practicing open defecation in Tanzania has largely remained the same.

The government and various organizations are working to improve sanitation. Some have hypothesized that the influx of refugees from the small, neighboring country of Burundi are decreasing the countries’ overall progress in this area.

Another reason could simply be the difficulty involved in changing long-held practices around sanitation in Tanzanian communities.

3. Approximately 17 Percent Have No Hand Washing Facility

The JMP regards basic hygiene access as the “availability of a handwashing facility on premises with soap and water.”

In Tanzania, 17 percent of people have no place to wash their hands. Without hand washing at critical times, like after using the bathroom and before eating, people are much more likely to become sick. Another 35 percent of the population have a hand washing facility but no reliable source of safe water or soap.

Almost half of Tanzania (47 percent) has basic access, meaning they have access to a facility with soap and water. Basic hygiene practices like hand washing are critical to maintaining health.

Tanzania water crisis
A child in Tanzania gathers water from a swamp.

2019 Progress Update

Data shows that the hygiene problem in Tanzania has largely remained the same from 2012-2017, when the data was last collected.

However, in Ethiopia (also in East Africa), Lifewater’s program results show that nearly 17,000 families (since 2016) have built basic hand washing structures called “tippy-taps” at their homes so they can wash their hands at critical times in the day. That’s 100,000 people who can now prevent disease through the simple act of hand washing.

The results are replicable in neighboring Tanzania, where Lifewater plans to expand in 2020.

Help End the Tanzania Water Crisis

Lifewater will begin water access work in Tanzania’s Shinyanga district in January of 2020. But, truly solving the water crisis will be about more than constructing wells.

Solving the Tanzania water crisis means villages must adopt life-saving health practices like hand washing and using a bathroom indoors, rather than outdoors. Practices like these help keep water from becoming contaminated. To sustain the new water sources, local leaders must join water committees to ensure proper use of the new, safe water source.

Finally, every village contributes 15 percent of the cost of construction through a combination of labor, materials, and cash. Lasting change requires the participation of the entire village.

Devocatus Kamara, Lifewater’s Tanzania Country Director, said that communities in Tanzania are ready to work together to solve the water crisis.

“Lifewater’s work is coming in as a game changer in Shinyanga’s long struggle for access to safe water,” he said.

Join us in partnering with communities across Ethiopia, Uganda, Cambodia, and Tanzania. Change is possible, and you can help end the Tanzania water crisis in your lifetime.


Choose a Village. Change a Life.