Arusha Town is one of the fastest growing urban centres in Tanzania. It's population is estimated at 516'000, with a 4 % growth. It is the hub of the Northern Tanzania tourism circuit, and a centre of agricultural and horticultural activity. It is a bustling town with a wide variety of medium and small enterprise and manufacture.
It hosts the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the headquarters of the East African Union. Situated at an elevation between 1400 and 1600 m on the slopes of the densely wooded Mt. Meru, a 4500 m high volcanic massif, it is blessed with a generally temperate climate and overall good rainfall.
However, urban infrastructure has been largely unable to keep up with the demands of an explosively growing population. Arusha town can be described as a ‘green island’ in a sea of semi-arid steppe that is subject to rapid environmental degradation and erosion, even leading to occasional famine among the pastoralist population of the district and the region at large, contributing to a rather uncontrolled population influx. Therefore, Arusha has, despite its lush and agreeable outward appearance, some of the ugliest and fastest growing slums in Tanzania, mostly in the lower (dryer) parts of the city.
Water supply is the responsibility of the Arusha Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Authority (AUWSA), a recently formed semi-autonomous government authority, and one of the better performing such institutions in the country. With foreign assistance, a major overhaul of the organisation’s systems has recently taken place.
AUWSA provided figures state the %-age of the urban population provided with clean drinking water as 91 %, whereas only 9 % of the population, mostly in the old city centre and its immediate surroundings, are connected to formal piped sewerage and treatment ponds, with only 33 km of main sewerage in existence.
The main water supply system is fed by a gravity system from the slopes of Mt. Meru, and by boreholes. Most slum dwellers receive their drinking water from AUWSA operated standpipes. Water supply and -demand, despite recent improvements, are in continuous precarious balance, a situation aggravated by rapid environmental degradation and uncontrolled deforestation of the slopes of Mt. Meru. For that reason alone, the prospects of increased formal piped sewerage look bleak, and the outlook for innovative approaches potentially promising.