For a long time, the price of water has generated a lot of public debate with consumers of both raw, clear and borehole water questioning the underlying principle behind water pricing and arguing, albeit without justification, that the insistence on payment for water is at variance with the constitutionally provided fact that water is a human right.
Water pricing has also been questioned because some people are of the opinion that unlike other resources such as electricity, water is a natural resource and hence should not be priced like other man made resources.
Against this backdrop, a considerable number of consumers have unfortunately neglected to pay their water bills and this has adversely affected the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s capacity to ensure sustainable and efficient provision of water for both primary and secondary purposes, as provided for in the Water Act (Chapter 20:24).
For the avoidance of doubt, it is vital for water users to understand that the aim of water pricing and the insistence on payment is not to deny them their sacred right to water but rather to expand supply in order to meet rising demand and also encourage more responsible water use. In essence what is charged for is not the water per se but the service rendered in order to deliver water to consumers.
Since water is a finite resource, there is an inescapable need to balance the constitutionally provided human right to water with the economic need for sustainable management of water resources and clearly, there is no better way of doing that than pricing it.
However, it is important for consumers to understand that the setting and reviewing of water charges is guided by a legal framework outlined in Section 30 of the ZINWA Act (Chapter 20:25) which clearly stipulate that, subject to the Water Act, the Authority may,with the approval of the responsible minister, fix charges for raw or treated water as well as drilling of boreholes.
Interestingly though, there is no provision of unilateral review of water charges which implies that whenever water charges are reviewed, the Authority must provide sufficient justification to the minister who can alter, uphold or turn down the proposed charge or increase at his discretion.
Concern about affordability of water for vulnerable groups in society such as the elderly and low-income households has motivated the adoption of a pricing model where higher charges are set for those who consume more while low volume consumers are charged less.
Suffice to say, proficient and effective water pricing is the gateway to sustainable management of water resources, efficient water use as well as maintenance of acceptable standards of water quality.
The continued deterioration of the quality of raw water, thanks to rapid population growth and increasing emission of industrial effluent in water bodies, has necessitated the need for more sophisticated and expensive treatment processes and this has made it even more critical to balance the social goal of maintaining affordability with health need to uphold acceptable standards of the quality of water.
It is through the implementation of sustainable water pricing mechanisms that the Authority, along with local authorities, are able to implement sound water management policies and make water more accessible, healthier and more sustainable for both current and future generations.
If truth be told, any resource that is as finite as water must have a price and unless consumers embrace the water pricing models and service their water bills, it would be difficult to guarantee long term water security.
While it incontestable that water is a human right, it is imperative for consumers to understand the need to pay for such services as the development and maintenance of water resources infrastructure, water treatment costs, labour and other operational costs. Consumers who need clarification on matters relevant to water pricing are encouraged to visit ZINWA offices nearest to them.
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