Major cities switch to pre-paid water system

Dr Tendai Mahachi

Dr Tendai Mahachi

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Local authorities in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare say they will soon install prepaid water meters, with officials in the capital saying private and Government premises will start using this system before the year is out.

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The system means people will pay for their water before they use it, in much the same way electricity prepayment is working. If a consumer does not pay, a small residual amount of water will still be available for use until they top up their accounts.

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This idea has always met resistence from residents who say Zimbabwe’s Constitution and various international conventions make water an inalienable right, and demanding that people pay for it first will hit the poor and vulnerable the hardest.

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Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe says: “Every person has the right to (a) safe, clean and potable water; and (b) sufficient food; and the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.”

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Nonetheless, at least 29 companies have already submitted bids to supply water meters to Harare.

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Engineers have tested some of the gadgets while citywide educational campaigns on how the system would work have started.

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Harare town clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi told The Sunday Mail that the system was mutually beneficial.

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“It will enable consumers to manage water consumption and also significantly increases council’s revenue inflows. More than 29 companies have submitted sample meters, so we are running tests on their suitability, reliability and durability as some of the potential suppliers are foreign.

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“I cannot give an exact date when we will install them, but in the next few months. We are not going to back down on the project.”

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Harare and Bulawayo mulled a pre-paid water system years back, but shelved it citing inadequate funds and residents’ resistance.

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The capital planned to install 170 000 meters beginning in 2012 with 5 000 households in Mabvuku earmarked for a pilot project. Installation would have cost US$1 million then. Current costing could not be quantified at the time of writing.

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In Bulawayo, the meters were to be installed at 14 000 homes in Cowdray Park where residents have enjoyed free water supplies for the past three years due to a serious hitch in the present billing system.

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The system helps curb treated water theft and boosts revenue inflows by ensuring consumers pay before receiving supplies. Defaulters owe Harare City Council over US$278 million, and the finance department estimates that Town House is only collecting US$12 million monthly against a potential US$24 million.

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The council spends about US$100 000 daily on water treatment chemical purchases. Prepaid water meters have yielded positive results in places such as Cape Town, South Africa where the local authority is said to be offering an efficient service.

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Dr Mahachi said: “Every person has the right to clean water, but everyone has the obligation to pay for services rendered to them because providing for that service costs money.

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“So, installation will increase revenue significantly which will help council to execute its duties more efficiently and will help residents manage their own bills.”

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But Harare Residents’ Trust chair Mr Precious Shumba accused Town House of being insensitive.

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“They are imposing their selfish wishes on the citizens of Harare. HRT has not received acceptable and plausible justification and explanations for the introduction of pre-paid water meters. We have no single reason to believe that they are introducing the prepaid meters to improve water supplies, the quality of water and its acceptability.”

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In Gweru, the mayor — Councillor Hamutendi Kombayi — said the Midlands provincial capital will soon roll out a pilot project, while his Mutare counterpart, Cllr Tatanda Nhamarare, revealed a similar system would come once consistent water supplies were guaranteed.

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“At the moment, we are working on the Dangamvura Water Project which will enable us to provide water to residents 24 hours a day,” he said.

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“We expect to complete the project before year-end, and that is when we will move to install the meters.”

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Bulawayo mayor Cllr Martin Moyo said installation would only be done voluntarily.

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“Initially, we had planed to install the meters in areas where there were no meters at all. However, after we faced resistance, we stopped. We hope to begin as soon as we get the prepaid meters from our supplier, but they will be installed for residents who volunteer.”

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Rural and urban planning expert Mr Nyasha Mutsindikwa said pre-paid meters would see local authorities recover money owed by customers.

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“The installation of pre-paid water meters will benefit the city council in that it will cut down debts by curbing payment defaults.

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“This will also improve cash flows of the local authority because demand for water will always be there,” he said.

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“If these funds are going to be used wisely, it will also help the city council to upgrade water infrastructure. Operation costs are also likely to be lowered in the long run.”

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