Prepaid Water Meters: Unfair To Customers?

- Jul 16, 2015 -

Fed up with water customers who do not pay their bills, Zimbabwe officials are asking customers to pay for their water before they use it.

"Under the proposed scheme, Zimbabweans will pay a minimum of $5 in advance to access water. When they run out of credit, they will be required to top up," World Bulletin reported. "Residents currently pay water consumption charges at the end of each month."

The prepaid billing proposal is intended to solve a problem for city officials, who have had trouble obtaining payments from some customers.

"The City of Harare has been issuing many summonses to residents for not paying rates, water and rubbish removal charges," the report said.

Customers, however, have not been satisfied with the service they have been getting.

"Zimbabweans have long complained of an inconsistent water supply. Many households, especially those in the capital's northern and eastern suburbs, rarely receive municipal water," the report said.

Customers are pushing back against the proposed plan. The head of a local citizens group, Precious Shumba is among the opponents.

"The Harare Residents' Trust (HRT) is fully and justifiably opposed to the concerted efforts by local authorities to push for the installation of prepaid water meters at the household level," he said, per the report. Shumba said the national constitution describes water as a basic human right. Policymakers, he said, "should first explore other options for raising revenue from water rather than rushing to introduce a project that they have not fully evaluated."

Prepaid water meters are promoted in cities all around the world. According to advocacy group Public Citizen, this billing system is harmful to local communities.

The group said in a report that prepaid billing plans are a "fast solution to make poor consumers pay the full cost of service delivery. Instead of carrying the cost of services as a society, private companies are focused on individualizing the cost of water, and ignoring the ability to pay."

Prepaid billing is harmful to public health and increases inequality, the report said. These plans are also more expensive than other billing systems, the report said.

"Despite potential management savings prepaid water meters are provided at a higher rate for users as compared to a traditional billing system," the report said.

Zimbabwe is currently undergoing a water and sanitation crisis, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Harare’s water and sanitation system is broken and the government isn’t fixing it,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “In many communities there is no water for drinking or bathing, there is sewage in the streets, there is diarrhea and typhoid and the threat of another cholera epidemic.”

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