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Zanzibar, 14 Jan 10

UN-HABITAT and internet giant Google have entered a partnership aimed at improving services offered by the Zanzibar Water Authority.

UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka washes her hands after officially inaugurating a new water point constructed under the partnership between Google and UN-HABITAT in Makadara Location of Zanzibar accompanied by the Zanzibar Minister for Water, Construction, energy and lands Hon. Mansoor Yussuf Himid (extreme right)

The project aims at improving access to information on water coverage, assessing the level of satisfaction by customers and evaluating efficiency in the delivery of services by the authority. The initiative is experimenting with the use of mobile phone networks to report faults in water supply systems and track efficiency in maintenance response through a web-based information system.

Inaugurating the project in Makadara location of Zanzibar last week, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs.  Anna Tibaijuka urged the residents to use the facilities well and ensure they are well maintained. In the first phase of the project, a total of 50 water points have been constructed in schools, hospitals and other public facilities in the western part of Unguja island and will be managed and maintained by local communities.

In many countries throughout the world, inadequate resource allocation for the provision of water services means that a large proportion of the citizens, particularly those living in informal settlements, remain without access to clean water. This situation is worsened by the lack of information. Conventional approaches to monitoring levels of access in the water sector focus on tracking investments rather than assessing the results achieved through these investments. In addition, there is limited feedback from feedback from citizens and communities on the level or services received and on the performance of service providers.

Availability of information on service coverage in a form that is easily understood and accessible can play a key role in improving water governance, and facilitate targeting of investments to  segments of communities with the greatest need. Communities that are empowered by access to information are in a stronger position to demand improved services from utilities and other service providers and can participate in identifying alternative approaches to meeting their water needs.

Current attempts to improve monitoring approaches have been hampered by the lack of reliable information at the local level, resulting in statistics which mask the true picture on the ground .

The partnership between Google and UN-HABITAT will establish citizen-based participatory monitoring techniques to support and empower targeted communities. It has developed new systems for collection of geo-referenced data which is disaggregated by gender and socio-economic group, and supported by information on the health and environmental status of the target groups and project areas. It has also established a system of benchmarking service providers not only to improve service coverage and efficiency, but also to enhance accountability to customers.

Data collection and monitoring is an essential tool in tracking progress towards the achievement of the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to helping policy- and decision-makers to improve their performance, accurate data provides communities with better information, consequently empowering them to demand better services. It also provides essential baseline data for advocacy, and helps to identify weaknesses hindering progress in the water sector.

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