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When water is a truly common good

MAKILENGA - a successful social business ensuring the supply of the most precious resource to thousands of people

A multi-village management committee, a model to follow

47,000 people living in the Arusha Region in Northern Tanzania in 2015 decided to get together as a consumers association, in order to manage the aqueduct built by Oikos between 2011 and 2016. An experience that has become a case study at national level.

The name Makilenga carries a story of participation: it comes from the initials of the most important rural areas which, through the support of Istituto Oikos and the Meru District, were involved in a participation process that led to the creation of 24 village committees for water management, elected by 54 sub-villages. These 24 committees chose 2 people who would participate in the COWSO Assembly - Community Owned Water Supply Organisation - named Makilenga.
The Assembly nominated 11 members that constituted Makilenga management board, which nowadays has an operation unit for the day-to-day management of the aqueduct consisting of 10 employees among whom a manager, an accountant as well as technicians.
Across the whole area we have created access to springs and built wells, providing 700,000 litres of water a day, building 262 km of new piping, 280 new public water points, 7 new tanks (in addition to 5 restored) and 10 plants for rain water collection in schools and hospitals .
Through these operations local population’s access to water significantly increased, soaring from 30% to 90%.
A long and thorough awareness raising campaign launched by Istituto Oikos and the Meru District was fundamental to encourage the community to use water responsibly, helping them to understand the importance of paying for the distribution system and taking active part in the life of Makilenga. This led to another extraordinary achievement: the majority of the population decided to give its contribution to the public water utility by paying a tariff based on real consumption, thus accessing favourable prices and avoiding waste.
Makilenga is a regular business registered in the Meru District and in its first year of activity has reached a turnover of 40,000 Euros: this is not only a pretty encouraging result, considering the low price applied to the service to make it accessible for everyone, but also the evidence of the sustainability of this operation, even in the long term.
The Makilenga experience has become a best practice in Tanzania, a country where the existing policy requires the management and maintenance service of rural water plants to be run by the so called COWSOs. What makes this concept unique is that it’s a multi-village COWSO, which brings together several small water committees in one common organisation.
The result is a much more efficient management system when compared to organisations made only of one or two villages, as shown by several studies run in Tanzania, among which a research led by Oikos in the Arusha Region. Nowadays Makilenga is a successful social business that guarantees a basic service and constant sustainability through time. The 44 board members are very motivated and actively engaged in the plant management and maintenance, keen to expand the distribution network, monitor water quality and check that no illegal act such as abusive connection to the water system takes place.
The present challenge is to establish partnerships and find resources to replicate this winning and sustainable model in other regions of Tanzania, so as to generate impact on a national scale. This is an important sign that participatory and sustainable initiatives can really produce lasting and stable changes, and make the difference for many people.


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