Tabora League for Children (TLC) - Investigating the water and sanitation facilities of orphans and vulnerable children and their families in Tabora, Tanzania



January 2011

Margaret Paton (Project Director), Deus Ntiruka (Project Leader), Derek Smith (Consultant)



This report is based on a questionnaire formulated by Emily Rubinstein and Linda Skinner and put by Deus Nitiruka to 28 different families in Tabora between October 2009 and March, 2010. The distribution ward by ward was Kiloleni 15, Kanyenye 6, Mentendeni 3, Isevya 2, Gangon 1 and N’gambo 1. Tabora a region and the town of Tabora is its capital. This survey was of citizens living in the town. Its population is in excess of 400,000. The Tabora region has a population of 4 million. This report is based on a detailed scrutiny of the responses to the questionnaire and is quantitative wherever possible. The objective was to obtain comprehensive and reliable information on the current water supply, quality and storage situation, waste water and sewage disposal and general hygene practices and to present an account which could be used to:


The Families and Their Accommodation

The average number of those in each household surveyed was 10.7 although there was a wide variation from 3 to 35. In these multi-occupancy units the numbers of women in households (average 2.86) was slightly greater than men (2.15). Of the children comprising all other occupants there were slightly fewer aged below 7 than those between 7 and 15. Over a quarter of the adults (27%) and 61% of the children originated from HAPO which was set up in 2006 to provide lunches and day care for orphans and vulnerable children in Tabora town. It currently caters for 60 children. 

The number of buildings comprising each household varied from1 to 4 (average 1.75). Only 2 of the buildings listed had cement walls, the rest being made of mud. All buildings had corrugated iron roofs many of which were rusty with consequent leakage problems. Fourteen households had gardens which were only mainly used during the rainy season.

Water Supplies

All but 3 households had access to one or even two taps. All but another two are in reach of a well and half of those questioned occasionally used pond water. Tap and well water is used for drinking, washing and cooking but pond water was frequently regarded with suspicion and used only for washing although this practice was not universal. Five households mention a salt problem at some wells. Twenty three households supplement their supplies by collecting rainwater from their roofs. All are able to supplement these sources by purchase from water sellers. The distance from a tap varies from 20 to 500 metres (mean 153) and from a well 50 metres to 4 kilometres (mean1.4). The numbers sharing a tap vary from 50 to 1000 (mean 211). When the tap is working the demand is therefore very high: when it is not there are often long delays in awaiting the resumption of supplies. The often great distance from wells frequently requires early rising and even overnight travel to gain access. Clearly, the frequent drying out of wells in the summer exacerbates these problems. In contrast to this situation, water sellers normally operate no further than 50 metres from households, in 17 cases the distance is less than 10 metres (mostly “around the house”)
All have to queue for water. Waiting time is expressed both in time and the number of buckets that have to be filled before the tap or well was reached. Waiting times at a tap are from 2 to 6 hours with15-70 buckets in the queue. There could be as many as 200 buckets in the queues for wells which are not only prone to drying up from time to time but occasionally their contents become too salty for use.

Only one household has water continuously available from their tap. The remainder said that it could only be obtained on 3 days each week and then for only 1-4 hours. Water is obviously continuously available at the wells except in drought conditions and when there is salt contamination (see above). The number of water sellers available and the reliability of their attendance varies greatly from time to time and from ward to ward. Only at 8 locations did residents say that water could always be bought. Others said that sellers only appear when wells ran dry and at 2 locations there could be a two-day wait for them.

Each household obtains from taps between 50 and 250 litres of water per day (mean 122 litres). Less is obtained from wells: around 50 litres per day with a maximum of 100 litres. Well sources are less reliable because of drought susceptibility and saltiness (which means that the water could only be used for washing). Members of all households carry their water supplies from the wells in up to five 10 or 20 litre plastic containers on foot. In only 2 cases is mention made of the use of a handcart and in one of these it had to be hired. Water collection is frequently a task for the elderly aided by their grandchildren. Twenty litre drums are heavy and the collection process can take anything from 30 minutes up to 6 hours per day (particularly in the dry season). There are times when demands just cannot be met.

The cost of water from taps varies mostly from 10 - 60/- for 20 litres with two exceptions where the costs are as high as 200 and 400/- for the same volume. Forty litre volumes are roughly double the cost. Thirteen households report that they also paid for water from ponds; the costs for 20 litres are anything from 30 - 90/- to rare maxima of 300-400 /-. Costs of water from wells based on information from 20 households are comparable to those from taps and ponds although 7 say that the supply from this source is free. Assuming that each household uses 120 litres of water per day (see above) that is the equivalent of 6x20 buckets which would cost anything from 6x10 (60/-) to 6x90 (540/-) per day depending upon the source of the water. This equates to 420-3780/- per week. A gardener would currently earn around7500/- per week. This suggests that at least 5% and, in some cases, as much as 50% of the earnings of a lowly paid worker could be spent on water and this is assuming that there is at least one regular low wage earner in each household. In theses wards of Tabora that is unlikely.

When questioned about the problems of maintaining a water supply, members of virtually all households list distances from sources and queue lengths but identify costs as the main factor. The age of those collecting the water came into the equation because the older the collector (see above) the greater the chance of poor health causing problems. There was much uncertainty about who actually manages the water supplies. Eleven households are unaware of any management and a further 10 say that its efficiency was unpredictable and of variable efficiency.

Water Quality and Storage

Those in 24 of the 28 households feel that their water supplies are “clean”. Clearly there is some uncertainty about what this actually meant. For example, in 12 households the necessity for “settlement” after collection is mentioned. Also filtration through cloths is practised in 7 cases with occasional mention of the use of clay pots, powder and boiling as alternatives. When questioned specifically about the use of clay pots, 13 households use them (although 4 are broken) but 14 did not although all said they would use them regularly if they were available. Fourteen households never boil water as a precautionary measure and a further 3 amongst the remainder express uncertainty about this. The purchase of charcoal for boiling water is mentioned by 5 households but its cost is inhibitory. Suggestions of procedures to improve water purification would be welcomed by all.

All store their water in plastic drums formerly used for cooking oil or emulsion paint and purchased from the market. These are filled from the 10 and 20 litre containers used for water collection. The latter, together with buckets, also provide additional storage capacity for some households. Only in 3 are lids always used and in 14 only for some of the time. All but one clean their storage containers of whatever sort using soap, 11 use a brush as well but in the remaining household only water is used. Frequency of washing varies from “sometimes” (4 households) to 1-3 times per week (7); some respondents (15) just say “before and/or after” use.

Waste Water and Sewage

A majority of households dispose of wastewater by throwing it away, 21 onto the street and 6 either into a gully/ditch or, in one instance, onto a vegetable patch. All households have access to a toilet but 14 are unfenced and have no roof or floor. Walls are commonly just made of dry meter high grass. Precise numbers of those using any one toilet are unclear but where they are given, they varied from 13 - 35 families (comments include “not many” and “too many”). All say their toilets were close or adjacent to their houses. Cleaning in all cases is by sweeping alone. In 25 cases it took an average of just over 7 months to fill toilets (varying from 3 - 12 months); in one case the time has been 5 years. Only 5 toilets are emptied on a regular basis at intervals of 4, 6, 8, 9 and 12 months respectively. If toilets are not emptied, the solution is frequently just to dig another toilet at a different location. 

Hygienic Practices

Members of all households said that they washed their hands before eating or handling food. In 16 cases this was stated to be the family custom. Only in an additional 9 households was there specific mention of the avoidance of infection (here was no response at all on this issue from 2 households. Concerning the use of soap, 3 families claimed always to use it, 11 sometimes and 13 not at all (there was no response from one household). With reference to diseases, representatives in all but 2 households identified water as the likely origin. Those of 14 linked it specifically with typhoid, 12 with typhoid and diarrhoea and only one failed to make a connection. Turning to personal knowledge of disease amongst family and friends, members of only 4 families said they had this. In terms of direct family experience of diarrhoea-type disease within the last month, this was only claimed in 7 instances. There was little recollection of the frequency of such diseases in the past.


Households comprised from 4-35 people living in groups of 1- 4 buildings predominantly of mud construction with corrugated iron roofs.

Most households could obtain water for drinking, cooking and washing from nearby or adjacent taps. This is supplemented by that from wells located anything from 50m to 4km away. Less drinkable pond water is occasionally used. Queuing for water was inevitable; waiting times (particularly at wells) could be 2-6 hours.

Water supplies from taps are discontinuous from day to day and for unpredictable lengths of time. Supplies are supplemented by purchase from water sellers but their presence too could be unpredictable. Costs from taps and wells are comparable but could vary from location to location and time to time as much as 10-fold.

Total water consumption from all sources is from 100-350 litres per household. It is transported from wells in 20 litre drums often by elderly people and their grandchildren which can take anything from 30 minutes to 6 hours each day. Demands are not always met.

An overall strategy for the management of water supplies is unclear in the context of its unreliability. Some families are unaware of any form of management at all. This is particularly apparent in summer drought conditions where long queues for water are the norm and much time is wasted.

Water supplies could hardly be regarded as “clean” since in nearly all households purification just involved settlement and filtration through cloths. Clay pots (some broken) are used in more than half of the households. Boiling water before use is rare.

Almost all households store water in plastic drums which had previously contained either emulsion paint or cooking oil. They are not always fitted with lids. Soap is used to clean these containers but not consistently.

Waste water is thrown into the streets or nearby ditches. Toilets are mostly adjacent to the houses and each is used by anything from 13-35 families. Some were unfenced or have grass walls and none have roofs. They are not necessarily regularly emptied; when full, another pit is dug.

Hand washing before eating or handling food is normal in the community but the use of soap is seldom regular. Water is widely viewed as a major source of infection resulting in typhoid and diarrhoea. There is reluctance to acknowledge the incidence of such diseases.

Not all specific questions were answered by some respondents resulting in total numbers, in regard to some topics, not always totalling 28.