Six reasons why prepaid water will cost you more

The prepaid water system that the City of Windhoek and other near-bankrupt councils want to introduce means automatic water cut-offs for those who cannot afford to pay upfront.

A woman at Paaie Kamp’ at Noordoewer in the //Karas region waits to collect water. Pic: The Namibian

Higher water tariffs

Under Windhoek’s proposed prepaid water system people who are currently struggling to afford water will be compelled to pay an extra N$4,293 for the installation of a prepaid meter, which is presented as a miracle solution to debt management.

If the residents can’t pay upfront, the cost of the meter plus annual interest will be added to the cost of water over five years. Post-paid customers do not have this additional expense.

Moreover, the following charges can be added onto the unit cost of prepaid water: The rates and taxes, current household debt, the inevitable servicing of municipal loans from banks for the cost of the prepaid meters, bulk water cost from Namwater, and council’s cost and profit.

The additional time and money needed just to recharge the prepaid system also needs to be factored in. What is the effect on those who struggle to walk and have poor mobility if they can’t get to a water credit recharge point easily?

This tariff structure will, as we saw in other places like Arandis, make water more costly and harder to access for the poorest households, with predictable health impacts, as the prepaid customers would pay more per unit of water in return for a reduced (poorer) level of service.

Economic apartheid

By installing prepaid water meters in low-income households, council will be creating two levels of service delivery, a two-tier model that separates the rich from the poor in terms of access to service. In my view that’s a form of economic apartheid. And discrimination. And I object in the strongest terms.

Council would mainly be “targeting” the poor, they said, for these prepaid water meters. This creates a bifurcated (dualistic) service delivery model that discriminates between rich and poor residents in terms of quality of water services offered.

Note also how councillors were themselves reluctant to install prepaid meters in their own homes and the suggestion was in fact laughed off by the mayor last night.

Katima Mulilo residents in April 2018 protested against prepaid water meters. Pic: The Namibian

Punishing the poor

The corporate-minded councilors think forcing the poor to cough up more will solve the immediate financial problems of local authorities, but it will deepen their future political problems when the effects of prepaid water start to be felt. Mark my word on that.

Some people seem not to have learned anything from history.

There’s a reason Swapo couldn’t implement prepaid meters everywhere, and why in places like Arandis, the first town in the world where it was installed in all households, Swapo lost power last year. Before implementing prepaid systems, these officials should at least see what happened at Arandis and how prepaid water affected the quality of life of the people there.

If as politicians they wanted to shoot themselves in the foot, in water cuts and prepaid water meters they’ve found the perfect weapon to do so.

Eager to resolve their financial problems by making the masses pay, these councilors are making the biggest mistake of their young political careers by messing with the people’s water.

There should at least be some socio-environmental and health impact studies on prepaid water. Where is it? You can’t just change a century-old water system willy-nilly overnight without a stitch of evidence about its potential health impact. That’s irresponsible. Some might say it’s madness.

I’m not impressed with their neoliberal corporate water policy, but I’m glad the CoW’s council debate last night gave the councilors a chance to show their true colors, so the ideological lines and political differences between us become clearer, and we can see where everyone stands on basic human rights.

Predatory policies

Let there be no doubt that prepaid water services embody a corporate and predatory capitalist approach to water rights that puts profit before people.

Prepaid meters are in effect automatic cut-off devices. Instead of being cut off after the bill arrives, you’re cut off in advance — until you can afford. This technology has been found to be hostile to public health. It is also cruel and inhumane to demand that children and the destitute pay upfront for water.

Water is life and access should be protected as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford. Therefore, we must oppose the water cuts (especially amid this pandemic), and the prepaid water meters, because it represents a major public health hazard to everyone.

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GO IN DEPTH Creating a New Apatheid — Water Privatisation in Namibia

Writer, reporter, activist