In the past decade the Tanzanian government, with a loan from the World Bank, designed and implemented a new administrative water rights and fee payment system with the aim of improving basin-level water management and cost-recovery for government water-resource management services. This chapter evaluates the processes and impacts after the first years of implementing the new system in the Upper Ruaha catchment. In this area, the majority of water users are small-scale irrigators and livestock keepers who develop and manage water according to customary arrangements, without much state support. Growing water demands intensify water scarcity during the dry season. Contrary to expectations, the new system has failed as a registration tool, a cost-recovery tool, and a water management tool, and has also hampered rural poverty alleviation. As a cost-recovery tool, the system drains government coffers because the collection costs are higher than any revenue gained. Moreover, rate setting and enforcement are highly subjective and arbitrary. As a water management tool, the new system aggravates upstream-downstream conflicts, because the upstream water users claim that paying for water entitles them to use it as they like. However, among the few private large-scale water users cost-recovery according to negotiated rates appeared to be feasible. The chapter argues that the new water rights system fits the relatively better-off minority to some extent, but that it is an anomaly for Tanzania’s majority of poor water users. Yet, for all water users in a water-abundant country like Tanzania, the overemphasis on water regulation risks diverting scarce human and financial resources from the only win-win option, which is further water development. The chapter concludes by suggesting easy adaptations in the current water rights system that would accommodate both large-scale and small-scale water users, improve cost-recovery for government services, mitigate water conflicts and alleviate rural poverty.
In: Between prescription and practice: Irrigation water pricing policies in context, edited by Molle, F., Barker, R. and Berkoff, J., pp 34