On Friday last week residents groups held a press statement questioning Harare City Council’s decision to install water meters in Harare. There is confusion after these groups claimed that the City Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said council was not going to install water meters contrary to the Town Clerk’s position on the same matter.
Residents have not been consulted and the process has not gone on tender raising questions on whether due process is being followed by the council officials. The discord emanating from town house on the matter has not inspired confidence in residents.
The privatization of water is happening all over the world. The commercial demands of water, urbanization and other agriculture activities mean the competition for scarce water is increasing. Countries such as China have roped in private players to provide water in the growing cities.
Although this has been hailed as a success it has not been without its own pitfalls. Zimbabwe appears to be following suit following announcements to install water meters in households around the city By Harare town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi.
It is worth understanding how other countries did it. In China there were four stages for water privatization .From 1949 to 1979 was a period for planning the economy. During this time, the water was supplied by the state with very low price. The second stage was 1979 to mid 1990s. In this period, the water privatization was started.
During 1990s to 2003, there was a rapid privatization of water supply. By (Built-Operate-Transfer) BOT， 15% to 18% profit was guaranteed by the government. This was to provide incentives for private investors to invest in water supply in the cities.
The fourth stage is from 2003 to now, where the government has continued with its policy of water privatisation. Most cities have private suppliers of water. China has adopted water. Foreign water companies have great impact in China now.
This is perhaps one of the lessons that the Zimbabwean government learnt from its visit to China to conclude what was reported as mega deals by state media. It appears the government has greater resolve to install water meters and privatise water in urban areas.
This privatisation of water started with the $144 million loan facility extended to the Harare city council by the Chinese. The purpose of this loan was to refurbish the water treatment plants in Harare. Many wondered how the City council would repay this loan considering that it was broke and there were reports of misuse of the funds. But the recent announcement of the city’s intention to install water
meters makes things clearer.
Residents will have to pay for this loan through the installment of these water meters since they will come at great cost to the citizens. Secondly residents will pay through their noses to have any access to water. The council will need to make enough money to keep water running through the taps but also have enough to service the loan they obtained from the Chinese. Residents now have to pay for the profligacy of council through these water meters considering that some of the money was used on luxury vehicles and salaries for council officials.
The privatisation of water hardly works if certain things are not addressed. Firstly, the transparency of the water market and public participation is very important. Harare will be in the first phase of privatisation of water which may initially appear cheap but there ought to be transparency in the market for water.
Suppliers of water will have a monopoly to supply water and if their actions are not sufficiently regulated, there is bound to be exploitation of the water consumers. Secondly, the quality of water supply after privatization needs to be ensured. Profit motive may result in water quality being compromised especially by private players.
Council must sufficiently address the expectation of citizens before it goes ahead with its plans to install water meters. Citizens need to be part of this process.
Access to water is a basic human right as declared by the United Nations and yet these plans to privatise water are likely to leave many poor families exposed
Already water is being sold around Harare for exorbitant fees but no-one imagined, it would soon become for sale for the whole city. There is need to ensure that the most vulnerable of our society are not deprived of access to water is council bulldozes and succeeds with its plans to install water meters.