Prepaid Water Meter System

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There is an increasing awareness in South Africa that water is limited and that careful management should be applied when dealing with this scarce resource. In recent years, we have witnessed recurring protests in townships and informal settlements around South Africa arising from disputes over housing, water, and electricity, which are often accompanied by violence against material infrastructures (ripping out of pipes and meters, spilling sewage and trash outside municipal buildings).This essay will argue for and against the prepaid water meter system with regard to its advantages and disadvantages as viewed by the people verses the government.

What is a prepaid water meter? www.apf.org.za states that there are several types of prepaid water meters but the idea behind them is the same. If you cannot pay upfront, you are unable to access water. Water from prepaid water meters typically cost more than water billed from the utility. As a result, those in most need are denied access to water. www.apf.org.za goes on to say, that in the United States, the typical prepaid water meter is used in areas without access to water infrastructure. The users are poor, often immigrant workers, who travel long distances to collect water from the meters. To get water you drop quarters into the slot and place your bucket at the faucet.

A similar type of meter has been used in South Africa where prepaid water meters replaced previous free communal standpipes in rural townships. The meter worked by inserting a plastic card with a chip that could be bought for R60.In order to get more water, money can be added to the card at a store. Other prepaid types of prepaid water meters are used in individual homes; this system was used in the United Kingdom. In the Philippines, new solar-powered water pumping station works with prepaid cards. Each user needs an AquaCard which is inserted into a meter attached to a solar pumping station. When water is dispensed the card is debited. A microchip in the card indicates when it needs to be recharged by the water user at a community bank (www.apf.org.za). Prepaid water meters are promoted all around the world as a fast solution to making poor consumers pay the full cost of service delivery. Instead of carrying the cost of services as a society, private companies are focused on individualizing the cost of water, and ignoring the inability of the people to pay as individuals. Privatised water utilities in particular prefer prepaid water meters as an easy way to avoid obligations previously considered desirable for water providers. Prepaid water meters are not the choice of the poor in need of improved water services, but the choice of corporate water multinationals and bureaucrats far removed from reality.

My argument against the prepaid water meter system is stated in the following: The prepaid water meters increase conflicts in our communities in a sense that communities traditionally share the burden of providing access to water for all. With the operation of prepaid water meters, water becomes an individualized marketed commodity and social relations in the communities wear down when families run out of water. In desperate need, families ‘steal’ water from each other when they are unable to afford to buy the water they need for basic survival. Prepaid water meters are more expensive and in spite of potential management savings, prepaid water meters are provided at a higher rate for users as compared to an old billing system. Prepaid water meters are sold as a high-tech solution and come at a higher price (normally around R1016.25, according to www. prepaidmeters.co.za) than any other meter. In some South African Communities, the majority of people live on below average pay checks, paying up to 50% of what they earn in water fees. Families have to choose between water and other necessities for survival and life with dignity (Marvin, S.J & S. Guy, 1997).

Prepaid water meters increase...
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