Paying for water crucial for service provision

Water is a very unique and important resource that has always been synonymous with life since time immemorial. It is a unique resource in the sense that it is the only natural resource whose availability and accessibility to people has been statutorily entrenched as a right both at local and international levels. The United Nations has declared water a right while the country’s constitution also recognizes every citizen’s right to water.

Water is also a resource that has no substitute. The resource has always been a source of life for human beings, animals and vegetation. However the advent of industrialisation and continued human activity has seriously affected people’s access to water which has resulted in the introduction of institutions to manage the resource and ensure its efficient utilisation. Human activity has also resulted in the increased pollution of water sources hence the need for delicate water treatment systems and processes to safeguard human health and life.

Water has also become a resource of strategic importance to the extent that its availability or otherwise has had a significant bearing on the success of all other human endeavours such as agriculture where water is the single most significant determinant of what can be planted.

As a resource, water has largely been utilised either as raw water or treated water.

Of primary importance in water use are mainly safety and reliability. At any given stage water has to be safe and its provision reliable. Once these two are guaranteed, then people can enjoy the benefits of the resource.

While many people receive and enjoy treated water in their homes, most people are never aware that there are costs attached to its delivery. For a while, utilities such as the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) have battled to keep water supplies running using the meagre revenues that flow into their coffers as most people are still to appreciate the great value of water. These utilities strive to keep service delivery running for the simple reason that a world without water is DEAD. This is despite the fact that bringing water to someone’s doorstep is no mean feat. It is a complicated exercise that requires a lot of money for the procurement of water treatment chemicals, the construction and maintenance of treatment and reticulation systems and paying for the energy requirements for the system. In some cases, the raw water to treat for subsequent reticulation to doorsteps is not readily available, but has to be pumped from a water source such as a river or dam several kilometres away using an equally delicate and expensive system. In some cases it has to be supplied from boreholes more than 100m deep.

All this is done to ensure people’s lives and health.

Let us just imagine what it would have been like in our lives if ZINWA or local authorities operated in the same manner other businesses such as telecommunications, transport or supermarkets operated where service is just ceased the moment your last dollar comes to an end or a situation where ZINWA attends to breakdowns only after receiving payments from people in the affected areas.

People would die of various water borne diseases, industries would grind to a halt and the crops and other domestic animals would also die. The situation would be catastrophic.

But the kind of business model that ZINWA is in is different. ZINWA procures water treatment chemicals and spares for reticulation works from companies that are privately owned and purely profit oriented. The Authority has to make-do with the little resources at its disposal to pay cash up front to service providers just for the sake of keeping operations running and avert a potential catastrophe.

In the circumstances, the equation gets so unbalanced, with ZINWA striving to provide service where the returns are not forthcoming. However strictly speaking, such hand-to-mouth mode of operating those water supply utilities are being forced to apply are neither ideal nor healthy.

Service provision is not a one way affair; it requires a mutual relationship between a service provider and those that enjoy the service. Each one has to play ball, if service is to be sustained, let alone improved. It is high time that the value of water as both an economic and social good be recognised. It is the moment when we need to elevate water to its true value and give it its priority.

For more information please contact the ZINWA Corporate Communications and Marketing Department on or visit

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