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Opinions of Sunday, 9 March 2014

Columnist: Nicholas, Nii Abbey

The untold story of Pre-paid Water Meter and the Urban Poor

: the success story of Uganda.

Water services to low-income urban consumers present challenges to utilities and other stakeholders. At the utility level, payment defaults/arrears build up associated with traditional yard taps and kiosks is a major canker yet to be eliminated.

Other challenges such as meter vandalism in some communities is gradually been eliminated through robust community and consumer education through a pro-poor project unit and installation of meter within multi-household dwellings to ensure ownership and protection. But with all these, it is important for Stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector on the continent to meet and deliberate on such matters.

This was achieved through the creation of a Water Association called African Water Association.

This year, I had the first opportunity to attend the 17th African Water Association (AfWA) International Congress and Exhibition which was held in Abidjan and I must say that what a festival of ideas and experiences it was! It was a forum to assess status, recent advances, and experiences in water, sanitation and environment sector in Africa.
The Congress was under the theme:”Mobilizing Resources and Governance of Water and Sanitation in Africa.” I am told that the 17th AfWA Congress was a follow-up to the two recently and successfully organized congresses in March 2010 in Kampala, Uganda and February 2012 in Marrakesh, Morocco, that attracted over 1600 and 900 delegates respectively from Africa and other countries outside the continent.
The attendees were Policy makers, donors, academicians, researchers, utility managers, international development and cooperation agencies, Young Water Professionals, students, NGOs.
There were several presentations from different countries but the very one that caught my attention was from Uganda on Water Pre-paid meters. I was so anxious to listen to the presentation because back in Ghana, the debate on a pilot program for Water Pre-paid meters for industries was on-going.
It would be recalled that the acting Managing Director of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), Ing. Godwin Dovlo had expressed intent for such a program when the utility companies met the Public Utilities and Regulatory Commission (PURC) in Accra early this year. According to him, the proposal was part of measures to curtail the physical and commercial losses incurred by the company.
As such, I was very keen to listen to the experiences from the presenter. Even before the scheduled time I had taken a seat on the front roll 30 minutes early and made sure that nothing distracted me from focusing on the Presenter. As the clock tick, the appointed time finally came to pass and I was more than satisfied with the delivery. Being a generous person let me share with you some few points I learnt from the Presentation.
Water Situation in Uganda
In Uganda, access to safe water stands at 66% overall; with 75% coverage in Urban areas (population 5 million) and 64% in rural areas MWE 2012. The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) of Uganda is mandated to supply water and sewerage services in 24 towns to date.
As of 2012, coverage stands at 75% for water supply and less than 8% for piped sewerage services. In Urban Poor areas coverage was worse. For instance, 60% of the population resides in informal settlements, 90% of these residents do not have access to private toilets and about 40% access clean piped water through mainly Public Stand Post (PSP).
Availing of clean water piped water to un-served areas is Uganda’s key priority in improving the quality of life and alleviating poverty. The national goal, as spelt out in the National Water Policy (NWP), is:”to achieve 100% safe water coverage and 100% sanitation coverage in urban areas by 2015, with an 80%-90% effective use and functionality facilities.”
Kamapala, the capital city of Uganda, is one of many African cities that have large informal communities facing severe water and sanitation challenges. Piped water services delivery for informal areas is through privately owned Public Stand Posts (PSP); their charges are not regulated by NWSC thus susceptible to overcharging the users.
Often vendors do not remit the collected funds to NWSC leading to service disconnection and arrears accumulation (similar situation in Dalun District in Tamale and elsewhere in Ghana).
Meanwhile, the NWSC is one of the best-performing utilities in Africa and has in recent years dedicated itself to serving the urban poor in low income informal communities starting in Kamapala. NWSC has established the Urban Pro-Poor Branch (UPPB) which is responsible for the delivery of water and sanitation services to low income communities served by the utility.
Since 2006 a series of projects have been implemented towards serving this segment of society. Critical to the management obligations, the NWSC board is charged to ensure social corporate responsibility by serving the urban poor settlements.
One of the latest pro-poor initiatives was introduced of the Water pre-paid meter technology in the informal settlements in Kamapala. The new initiative required Consumers education on Pre- pay Technology. The knowledge dissemination was intended to create demand for new connections with pre-paid meter technology and accelerate the acceptance of pre-paid meters installation.
Selection of the beneficiary communities involved ranking the slum locations according to multi criteria set of indicators. Stakeholder mapping was done and social marketing by involving Local leadership .i.e. Parish Development Committees (PDC), Local Councils (LC) in organizing meetings with landlords, households heads and individuals in the Community.
Community Mobilizers (CM) and Caretakers (CT) were identified and trained about; the dos and don’ts of water pre-paid meters technology, demand creation and token distribution process. Their selection criteria included; pro development orientation and being resident in the community. Door to door visits to interested consumers were done by both the trained Cm and CT who in turn became ambassadors of NWSC to their Community on issues of water and sanitation.
Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials such as media, flyers and posters translated to three widely understood languages (English, Swahili and Luganda) complimented the visits in sharing information. Media such as radio talk shows, announcements, drama, customized messages and formal program launch within the community facilitated wider information flow and fostered leadership support/buy in.
All issues arising from the dissemination exercises were discussed with NWSC management on policy issues for further guidance.
Creating demand for new connections
Even landlords within informal settlements were convinced through the sensitization and offered freely part of their land to install water pre-paid meters to assist in providing access to their tenants and neighbouring households. The value of properties of such landlords also shot up due to pre-paid water accessibility.
Accelerate acceptance of pre-paid meter technology
Consumer Education enhanced the capacity of the Community to learn and appreciate the new pre-paid technology practice of reading tokens on pre-paid and recharging credits whenever their money was used up.
Pre-paid meters is proofing to be the most effective water service delivery product because its functionality and offers to households every time they draw water. It has also eliminated the exploitation by the middleman and other water vendors that would hike prices per jerrican of water among the beneficiary community.
The concept of Community engagement greatly contributed to community policing which to date enabled approximately 700 installed pre-paid meters not to be vandalized by some bad individuals who live with them. The beneficiary community had a sense of ownership of the facility.
The Urban poor realized that the pre-paid meters provides real time tariff offered by NWSC cheap and affordable therefore their capacity to combat water communicable disease were enhance through social marketing. Successful implementation of IEC requires massive community involvement at all levels coupled with customized messages that were widely acceptable in the cultural settings in the Urban Poor communities.

In conclusion, the beneficiary community has widely accepted the introduction of water pre-paid meter technology since they always pay as they drink and when they can afford the water according to each household’s income.

Nii Abbey Nicholas.

The writer is with the Public Relations Directorate of Ghana Water Company and also a member of the International Water Association/Young Water Professionals, Ghana Chapter. Email: