African Development Bank (AFDB) Executive Director, Judith Kateera implored the Bulawayo City Council to review its high water tariffs downward so as to make water affordable for low-income households.
Towards the end of last year, BCC increased tariffs by nearly 400 percent and said the rates would be likely to be adjusted further by 421 percent in the event that the proposed 2021 budget of more than ZWL$16 billion is approved.
The local authority relies on revenue from ratepayers to support water system costs as they claim water and sanitation utilities operate in a high-cost environment.
In a meeting with BCC officials, Kateera highlighted that high water tariffs were a challenge for most African countries where the cost was burdensome for the poorest customers who turned to unsafe water sources.
“I want to comment on the issue of tariffs, your worship. One of the challenges we are facing is the issue of water tariffs. We want people to have free water that will be the best thing for everybody but sometimes the cost of free water is the cost of buying bottled water,” Kateera said.
The AFDB executive director was in the city to inspect the Bulawayo Water and Sewerage Improvement Project (BWSSIP) funded by AFDB at a tune of US$33 million to improve municipal water supply and sanitation services.
“I bought bottled water at a local hotel wanting to know how much it cost and I paid US$1. If I was to say in a month, I drink one bottle per day it means I need US$30 per month for water only then think of the cost of living and other expenses in Zimbabwe. We have to work towards reducing cost so that water is affordable,” said Kateera.
The AFDB executive director who oversees Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe in her portfolio, said local authorities had to explore ways on how they can provide water at a cheaper cost, as water that was accessed through informal channels, came at a huge health cost to residents.
“Sometimes providing free water comes at a high price and people end up drinking water that is not so clean and with the challenge of Covid-19, I don’t want to emphasise that point. So the point I’m driving at is in the bank, we approved a water policy strategy document which is driving us as we implement projects with member states,” she stated.
She said this document was available through the AFDB country office and through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development where the necessary reforms that need to be implemented by the local authority particularly on water pricing reforms can be discussed.
“This problem is not in Zimbabwe only, it is a problem faced throughout the continent. It is like we were having notes from the same lecturer on the way we are pricing water but that pricing strategy we are using is working against us,” said the AFDB official.
She noted that local authorities must ask themselves how they could be sustainable without relying on donor funds.
“The big question we raise is what is the local authority going to do after the donor has gone away. The AFDB can give a grant today and walk away. Five years down the line we have to repair and maintain infrastructure, what are we going to do as a people? This is a question we have to engage as a people and agree with each other. I leave this as food for thought,” Kateera said.
“My team here is available to provide technical assistance, which is for free. You don’t pay for it because your government is a shareholder in the bank and you can also work with your line ministry,” she said.
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