Mixed feelings as Harare City council rolls out pre-paid meters

The installation of prepaid water meters which the city of Harare has already started rolling has been received with mixed feelings.

 By Philemon Jambaya 

The much-debated prepaid water meters which are still being installed as a pilot project target 2 000 households and business units.

Scores of Bluff Hill and Sunningdale residents, where council has started installing prepaid meters welcomed pre-paid meters  saying that this will enable them to know the exact amount of water they use and thereby accounting for the water used.

“We really appreciate this project, if this project is successful we will be able to know the exact amount of water we use and payment will be based upon the amount of water used rather than estimations. Let’s see how the pilot project works” said Tendai Marufu a resident of Bluff Hill.

His sentiments were also echoed by a Sunningdale resident  who said the meters will save a lot of money as council will not be able to deal with estimations.

“It is a great advantage to us as the project will save a lot of money which we were losing to council because of estimations which they were using to charge for water bills. “

While Section 77 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution says every person has the “right to 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”, resident representative bodies perceive the pre-paid meter initiative as a direct  violation to  the constitutionally guaranteed  right to access to water. Human rights activists say access to “water is an inalienable right and demanding payment upfront will cause commotion among the people who are already burdened with taxes.

Meanwhile some residents say the move will see the poor being prone  to water-borne diseases.

Over 4 000 people, mostly from Harare, succumbed to cholera in 2008/9, after going for several days without running water.

“With the current cash shortages the prepaid water meters will be a recipe for diseases. If I do not get my money on time it means my family wont have access to water,” said Allen Shumba a Sunningdale resident adding that such an initiative will only work when the economy is performing well.

Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (HAMREF) Spokesperson Marvelous Khumalo  condemned Harare City council for moving ahead with the installation of prepaid water meters saying the move is being done without proper consultation.

“It is a pity that they are going ahead with that project which the residents spoke negatively about and resisted …” said Khumalo.

Khumalo also questioned where the City of Harare is deriving its authority to install the meters.

“Where is the City Of Harare deriving their authority from? Is it from the residents or from unknown sources” questioned Khumalo.

Khumalo also said that HAMREF is opposed to the project.”

“HAMREF is still opposed to these pre –paid gadgets and we will continue to resist them” fumed Khumalo.

Zimbabwe is not in isolation on the pre-paid water system.The system has been successfully implemented in areas like Johannesburg, Kampala, Nairobi, Maputo, Lusaka.

City of Harare Spokesperson Michael Chideme said that the project has received an overwhelming response from residents as most people are seeking application forms for the meters.

“The project has been received overwhelmingly by Harare residents as most of them have applied for the meters to be installed on their houses, this is a pilot project which will run for six months and we will see how it will work. “Said Chideme.

Meanwhile, A 2014 World Bank study, “Limits and Possibilities of Prepaid Water in Urban Africa: Lessons from the Field,” shows that most residents of selected cities in Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, South Africa, Kenya and Namibia prefer a prepaid system as they can control consumption, thereby making savings.