Mixed reactions to prepaid water meters

HARARE - As the Harare City Council (HCC) goes ahead with installing prepaid water meters, much to the chagrin of residents associations who feel the move is in violation of people’s constitutional right to water, some are actually approaching the local authority demanding installation of the devices at their residences.

Those opting for the meters argue that the devices will be cost effective as consumers will pay for what they would have used.

The prepaid water meter pilot project, currently underway in some Harare suburbs — Bluffhill, Avenues, Sunningdale, Kambuzuma, Greendale and Avondale, will see 3 000 households using the devices.

The HCC claims that once prepaid meters are introduced, council will increase its water revenue collection by $25 million annually.

Companies providing the pilot meters are Hukoshwa, Industrial Products, Syvern, Tricon Investments and Utility Systems.

If successful, council moots to roll-out the project to the rest of Harare by the first quarter of 2017.

Since January 2016, water tariffs for high and low density areas range between 25 cents and 40 cents for up to 10 000 litres.

Some residents who had prepaid meters installed have praised the move saying the meters regulate people from wasting water.

One of them, Calista Muzenda, said once the meter was installed at her property, she can now monitor her water usage.

Muzenda said the “project must be rolled out to the whole city as it will not only save water, but also money”.

“Before meters were installed I used to pay between $50 and $60 for water because the bills were estimates but now I can use only $40 for the whole month. Now my family knows not to waste water,” she said.

Another prepaid meter user from Sunningdale, Simbarashe Nyamupinga, said the device was “most welcome because it would prompt residents to pay for what they use”.

“If people pay for their water maybe the distribution infrastructure can be improved so that we do not get constant water cuts. The quality may also improve greatly through purchase of treatment chemicals,” he said.

Tricon Investments managing director, Allen Mpofu, said their prepaid water meters, which are directly connected to Rowan Martin council offices, can detect tampering.

Mpofu also said there were a lot of private residents who wanted the prepaid meters installed because of the need to save money.

“Our meters have a 10-year lifespan after which we will buy them back from the consumers and recalibrate. If anyone attempts to tamper with the meters, it is automatically detected at Rowan Martin and their water disconneted,” he said.

Another contractor Tafadzwa Rugara of Hukoshwa Resources said their meters can show the resident their daily, weekly and monthly water consumption, with residents able to buy water via mobile money networks.

“The meters can detect a leak anywhere in the house and automatically close to avoid any more loss of water, thus also saving money,” he said.

The HCC strongly feels that the introduction of smart meters would be best following Auditor General (AG) Mildred Chiri’s report that revealed that 60 percent of council meters were non-functional prompting the local authority to bill on estimates.

Chiri’s report said because of the anomaly there were variances between units billed on estimates and actual units for water consumed.

The AG’s report also showed that council suffered a 56 percent loss in freshwater as water supplied and billed did not tally.

“Some estimates had significant variances which averaged 105 cubic litres per household. Some of the estimated units charged were for non-functional meters where no actual meter reading could be obtained,” Chiri said.

HCC spokesperson Michael Chideme claims that the city is constantly dealing with individual clients who want smart meters installed at their households because of the growing awareness to save water and money.

Chideme said though they cannot pre-empt the outcome of the pilot project, residents have so far been very welcoming of the project.

He added that though there are teething problems as with every new project, residents in areas where smart meters were installed have a general understanding of the initiative.

“People in areas not covered by the pilot project are enquiring about when their areas will also benefit. Water conservation has become topical and everyone wants to get involved. Those with tenants also feel that smart meters will be beneficial as tenants will only move out if their bill is cleared,” he said.

However, Bluffhill resident Conrad Mudimu said most residents had dug boreholes so smart meters would be useless.

“Water supply in most areas has been so erratic that we do not care about the municipal service anymore. Apart from that our borehole water is much safer than what is pumped to us daily,” Mudimu said.

Community Water Alliance coordinator Timothy Chitambure said though water has to be paid for, prepayment was tantamount to discriminating those who cannot afford.

He said council can commercialise water at companies but at institutions like hospitals, old and children’s homes and domestic areas, meters should not be availed.

Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) chief executive officer Mfundo Mlilo said council is not being rational and does not have any justifiable reason to go ahead with prepaid meters beyond money.

Mlilo said given the state of affairs in Harare and despite various detailed reports by international institutions like the World Bank (WB) showing that the city is not ready for prepaid meters, council has ignored these.

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