The debate over the proposed introduction of pre-paid water meters has been making headlines with residents and local authorities proffering their own arguments for opposing or supporting the idea.
By Edgar Gweshe
The City of Harare and other local authorities such as Masvingo, Mutare and Bulawayo are pressing for the pre-paid water meters saying that they will improve their revenue base and thus improve water supply.
The local authorities also contend that an improved revenue base would allow them to improve the quality of water.
There has however, been conflicting messages from Harare City with Mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni saying there was need for proper consultation on the issue before implementation while Town Clerk, Tendai Mahachi is of the view that the project should just go ahead.
Analysts say one thing that is very clear is that local authorities are blind to the dire economic situation that most residents are facing. Buying water in such a manner, they argue, would complicate further the misery under which the people were living.
Opponents of this proposal say the local authorities seem pre-occupied with widening their revenue base and forgetting that many suffering Zimbabweans would definitely be deprived of their constitutional right of access to water.
The urge to draw more money from the already impoverished masses seems to have taken precedence over everything else, including human survival, they said.
According to the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), introducing pre-paid water meters would be a serious infringement on people’s constitutional rights as affordability would be a big challenge for most people.
“Residents of Harare must understand and local authorities must accept that water is a basic human right protected under Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. It is thus the obligation of the state and its local agencies to ensure that there is a progressive realisation of this right within available resources,” said CHRA chief executive officer, Mfundo Mlilo.
“The idea that people pre-pay airtime, transport fares and other such services is dishonest and disgusting to say the least. How can our leaders compare water with airtime? There are many other reasons why this project must be resisted. It will only make life difficult for poor and underprivileged households.”
A campaign under the theme Inform, Educate, Resist aimed at mobilising residents to resist pre-paid water meters has been launched by CHRA which has also formed an Anti-Privatisation alliance that brings together residents associations in the Harare Metropolitan Province.
Members of the alliance include the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (HamRef), the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd), Community Water Alliance (CWA), the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the National Assembly Of Youth Organisations (Nayo) and the Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peace Building (ZYWNPB).
HamRef chairperson, Simbarashe Moyo says they will continue resisting pre-paid water meters, which he described as being anti-poor.
He said pre-payment of water would impact negatively on the lives of poverty-stricken households.
“In any case, the current economic climate does not support this system of pre-payments. Residents are wallowing in poverty and urban debt and this will further worsen their situation. The pre-payment will affect mostly the elderly and the poor sections of our community. There has not been a clear package for free water that can be easily managed by this system as demanded by the new constitution,” said Moyo.
“It is our position that water plays an integral role in our lives, particularly for women and children who cannot survive a day without water.”
According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), installation of pre-paid water meters raises legal issues that include the right to water, the state’s obligation in the fulfilment of the right to water, as well as whether or not installation of pre-paid meters is a violation of the right to water.
“The installation of pre-paid water meters certainly affects access to water as some residents may not be able to afford upfront payment. Water is recognised in legal instruments as a right as opposed to a privilege,” said ZLHR lawyer, Kennedy Masiye.
“The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.”
The ZYWNPB is of the view that women’s health would be largely compromised if pre-paid water meters are introduced.
“Water cannot be substituted like electricity, thus most women being primary care givers will fail to lead healthy lives. This increases the risk of outbreaks of diseases. Pre-paid water meters also have a negative impact on the communities during times of grief and accidents like bereavement and fire,” said the ZYWNP in a statement.
The ZCTU contends that workers — the majority of whom are earning far below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) — will have their health seriously compromised as most of them would not afford pre-payment of water.
The labour organisation says that due to their poor standing, most workers might be forced to resort to untreated water.
“Those without resources may be forced to decrease their consumption of water and resort to untreated water. There is bound to be a natural escalation of the cost of providing health services resulting into the health sector burdened due to water-borne diseases resulting from use of untreated water from other sources,” said ZCTU.
“The majority of workers who also are community members may have their life expectancy compromised.”