Harare postpones prepaid meters……As Bulawayo back-tracks

Debra Matabvu
Harare has further stalled the prepaid water meters pilot project with the local authority indicating that the new system will now begin anytime during the second quarter of the year.
Initially, city officials had hinted that the pilot project would commence in October 2015 with the city rolling out a mega programme this March.
However, towards the end of last year, council postponed the pilot project to January 2016.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail last week, city officials indicated that the pilot project would start in the next four months, but could not shed light on the exact date.
It is understood that the Harare City Council recently awarded tenders to five companies that are expected to supply 2 000 pre-paid water meters targeting households in Avenues, Milton Park, industrial areas and the Central Business District.
The selected meters had revised specifications to include a local concentrator that uses radio signals to communicate with a server at the main water station.
They also have a facility to adjust water pressure to suit consumers’ different needs.
The pilot programme will target properties with continuous water supply, customers with non-functional meters, industrial and commercial properties as well as new housing projects.
Harare City Council corporate communications manager, Mr Michael Chideme said the local authority is fine tuning certain elements but maintained that introduction of the new water meters is inevitable.
“We have finalised the tender process and we have already awarded the tenders to five companies.
‘‘We are going ahead with the project this year,” he said.
Mr Chideme said the project is a water conservation tool that will enable Harare residents to optimize water use and help the city to equitably distribute the commodity to all suburbs.
Introduction of pre-paid water meters was mooted early last year, thereby triggering an uproar as consumers argued that the meters are unconstitutional as the supreme law guarantees the right to water.
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 measure, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realization of this right”.
Human rights watchdogs say that right would be negated if a person fails to pay for water in advance.
The activists argue that various international conventions make water an inalienable right and demanding payments first will hit the poor hard.
A World Bank study indicates that Harare is not the first African city to go the pre-paid water meter route.
Johannesburg, Kampala, Nairobi, Maputo, and Lusaka, among other cities, are making use of the meters.
In South Africa, where the system was introduced in 2009, there is a Free Basic Water Access policy.
Johannesburg Municipality says it saved R800 million in the 2013-14 period through prepaid water.

…As Bulawayo back-tracks

Sunday Mail Reporter
Bulawayo City Council has made a major climb down on compulsory installation of pre-paid water meters. The city will now install the gadgets on a voluntary basis.
The u-turn follows massive resistance of the project by the city’s residents.
A trial run on the water prepaid meters was set to begin in the last quarter of 2015 in some residential suburbs, but the project was abandoned after residents showed much displeasure in the move.
Bulawayo Mayor, Cllr Martin Moyo said the local authority had also considered a lot of factors such as high fees of installation of the prepaid meters.
“We have not installed prepaid water meters anywhere because we faced resistance from civic societies, notably The Bulawayo United Progressive Residents Association (BUPRA) and thus we are installing the pre-paid water meters on a voluntary basis,” he said.
“The other challenge that we have is that the meters are not yet in stock. We have, however, floated a tender so that those who want the meters can apply.
“We have also considered that some of our residents might not be able afford the installation fee which is ranging between $200 and $250, thus we are a little cautious on those that do not want them. We want them to realize the benefits of the initiative without us forcing them.”
Bulawayo Residents Association (BURA) president, Mr Winos Dude commended the move and said there was need for the council to look for other ways to recover debts.
He said the installation of water prepaid meters would affect the vulnerable who do not have money to make prepayments.
“Vulnerable groups in the society may have unpaid water bills running into thousands of dollars, which local authorities say they will deduct through all future water payments, meaning they run into the danger of having dry water taps as long as they owe local authorities,”
“Of course residents owe councils money, but will all that money be used for water? I think the councils should look for other ways to recoup the money they are owed.”
Bulawayo had earlier vowed to go ahead with installation of the meters despite meeting fierce resistance from the residents.
In 2014, Bulawayo residents staged demonstrations protesting the council’s plans to install water prepaid meters.
The residents threatened to storm city chambers if their call was not heeded.

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