For years, making water users pay for the service they receive from water utilities such as ZINWA or urban local authorities has been a daunting task. Many water users to not believe in the need to pay for the resource despite the critical role water plays in the lives of every person or business entity. As a result water utilities find themselves hamstrung financially as hundreds of millions of dollars of their revenue is trapped in unpaid water bills. This has, no doubt, impacted negatively on their ability to deliver quality, reliable and unhindered service to clients.
In the case of ZINWA, the Authority is battling to recover millions from irrigators, local authorities, individual consumers, schools and agricultural estates who have not been honouring their bills. It is therefore imperative to try and unpack the reason why people should pay for water regularly.
Firstly, it must be known by water users across the board that there is a symbiotic relationship between paying for water and the service clients get at the end of the day as the revenue realised from water bills is reinvested back into the system.
Water users need to understand that water comes out of their taps at a cost. It takes a vast and intricate infrastructural network for water to reach the client and the construction, expansion and maintenance of the same network requires financial resources for it to operate efficiently and optimally. For example, when the water falls as rain, it gets impounded in dams and other reservoirs such as weirs where it is later drawn for treatment or other purposes. It takes money to construct these water works and to keep them intact after construction. While in Zimbabwe the Government has invested billions of dollars in dam construction, the maintenance of the dams can only be done through revenue recovered from those benefitting from the water bodies such as local authorities, irrigators and other users. Without these beneficiaries paying for water, the infrastructure will go to waste.
The water treatment plants which are used to purify water also need to be constructed and continuously upgraded for them to deliver the best quality of water. This requires money and such money can only be raised through water bills. In addition, the treatment processes require vast amounts of chemicals some of which are imported. Any water utility needs to keep adequate stocks of water treatment chemicals so that service is sustained. When water users fail pay their bills, the sustainability of service cannot be guaranteed. It is for this reason that ZINWA has always reiterated that there exists a nexus between payment for water and the service clients get. Where users do not pay for water, service cannot be guaranteed as there will be no resources to keep the system up and running.
An intricate network of pipes running into thousands of kilometres conveys water from the source to the doorsteps. This network requires money to set up and maintain. Over time, the pipes need to be replaced as their lifespan runs out and this can only happen when there are enough resources generated from payments for water. When there are no payments, these pipes will frequently burst leading to service interruptions and unnecessary loss of treated water through leakages. Both the treatment and conveyance systems also require energy for the water to reach the tap. About 70% of any water utility’s energy costs is directly related to the pumping and treatment of water hence the need for clients to pay and sustain the systems.
It is therefore against this background that water users should always honour their water bills. This is the only way service can be guaranteed.