April 4, 2006

Zanzibar: New water law "unfriendly to the poor", says opposition

Opposition groups on the semiautonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar have criticised new legislation that declares all water on the island the property of the government and introduces fees for water, which had been free. "Water in whatsoever form, location or state, including fresh, saline, marine, surface, ground flowing or dormant water bodies and any kind of public water is hereby declared to be owned by the government," said the bill, which also included penalties and possible jail terms for those who waste the precious resource.

Hamad Masoud, the chief spokesman of the opposition Civic United Front on water matters, said some clauses in the bill were "unfriendly to the poor people of Zanzibar, such as declaring ocean, rain and well water government property." He said water charges would pose a burden to most Zanzibaris, who dwell in “extreme poverty”.

According to Mansour Himid, minister for water, land, energy and construction, however, the main purpose of the new law was to control water usage on the island and to establish a governmental authority to manage water provision. The fees would take into consideration the economic status of the general population, which would start paying for water only “after the services have been improved on the island," he said. No one would be penalised for using rain or ocean water. "We have to control water for domestic purposes, agriculture, development, tourism activities, industrial and other uses," he said.

Zanzibar is currently facing water shortages following a prolonged drought in East Africa. Boreholes for Zanzibar's municipality, which serve more than 400.000 people, are now producing one-fifth of their usual output. (IRIN)

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