25 Oct 2011

The anatomy of fail

EB responded to the contest to win the book, but his description is more about the persistence of failure:
I wish my example of "the end of abundance" had a solution to it because there are some reasonable options for action.

Essentially, in one urbanized slum ward in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the piped water system was pretty decrepit and useless, to the point where well water makes up for the bulk of water supply in the area. Electricity shortages and rationing (and the lack of generators) resulted in virtually no water from sunrise to sunset for months on end resulted in the use of shallow wells and upticks in cholera outbreaks. What is even more sad is that piped water kiosks brought into that ward (and the rest of the city) have sat non functional for reasons other than hydraulics or engineering (political party and organizational bickering over management and more than likely some degree of collusion in the water market).

I haven't heard back from my contacts in Dar es Salaam in ages, and don't know if they have acted on either the 'electrical connection" solution for the wells, or have turned on the kiosks (that were all built in 2007-2008). I wish I were in a position to solve this, but I'm just a lowly recent PhD.
I asked him to elaborate on the political/market failings. He replied with:
The political was basically a local level situation where a minor party ("the upstart muslim party", to grossly oversimplify) adapted to lack of cooperation from city and national level major party (TZ has been dominated by same party since birth) groups by creating 'relationships" (read 'bribes') between the private sector sellers and local government. All of this was in a context where the national government quietly fell (parliament dissolved and reconstituted) in a series of huge ($250 million dollar) utility scandals (Richmond Electricity Scandal, Bank of Tanzania scandal, etc. -- more information here) back in February 2009.

What was both pathetic and farcical was that 24 hours after parliament was dissolved, GW Bush arrived with the first tranche of Millennium Challenge Corporation (Good Governance) funding for infrastructure!

As for solutions, I think that the water kiosks throughout the city are good temporary solutions -- ones that would help address water quality issues. Improving the grid, providing alternative sources of pumping power, etc. (or creating a market with these products and services, better yet!) are also useful. I've spoken to city engineers who speak of longer-term issues with expansion of the city's piped system, and they say that it would take an overhaul of the whole thing (including creation of two or three decentralized pumping and treatment stations [see this blog post]) to be able to deal with any further large scale diversion. I think that improved revenue collection from some stubborn groups (the TZ Army once kidnapped a utility employee over an unpaid bill brought to them!) could reduce the 65% NRW rate and go a long way by itself.

Feel free to take a look at parts of my (very imperfect) thesis [PDF] if you are interested.

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