THE Bulawayo City Council has shelved the planned rollout of pre-paid water meters, after residents and civic society organisations condemned the gadgets as insensitive and discriminating against the poor.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
The council had earmarked piloting the pre-paid water meter system in the Cowdray Park high-density suburb since last year, defending the gadgets as necessary to force residents to pay bills on time.
The local authority argued that pre-paid water meters would help deal with problems of estimated meter readings and reduce billing errors.
Bulawayo Mayor Martin Moyo, however, told the Southern Eye that the pre-paid water meter project had been shelved, as it is expensive for the cash-strapped local authority.
Each pre-paid water meter costs about $250, a figure too steep, Moyo said. He, however, noted that residents who want the gadgets at their residencies can still approach the council to have them installed.
“It’s no longer the wholesale kind of project where each and every resident is bulldozed into having a pre-paid water meter,” he explained.
“The thing is that we do not have the resources to purchase and install them across the city.
“They are expensive, $250 per each meter is on the high side and unaffordable.
“The council can, however, still respond to individual requests and install them on residencies of those who want them.”
Civic groups and residents have protested against the gadgets, petitioning the council not to install the devices across the city. The Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association (Bpra) said research showed that the gadgets would only cause waterborne disease outbreaks in poor communities.
“Based on desktop research on what happened after introduction of prepaid water meters in many parts of Africa, the gadgets led to an outbreak of cholera in Madlebe in KwaZulu-Natal, leading to loss of life, and seriously undermined the right to water in many poor communities,” Emmanuel Ndlovu, the Bpra Advocacy and programmes manager said.
“In addition, use of prepaid water meters is discriminatory as it allows rich people to use as much water as they want, yet poor people, by virtue of their poverty, are denied access to adequate amounts of the precious liquid.
“The gadgets ensure conservation of water in a cruel manner through immediate cut-off once credit runs out.”
Ndlovu added that it would be best if they were introduced in low-density suburbs and not the high-density suburbs where the majority of the poor stay.