An increasing number of African water utilities are turning to pre-paid metering in order to curb wastage, claw back lost revenues and extend service coverage. Do the rewards justify the high roll-out costs?
Chris Heymans, senior water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank, is currently undertaking a study of pre-paid services in eight cities in six African countries. He observes that while the investment is hard to recoup in domestic connections with low consumption volumes, PPS for public standpipes and large institutional clients are more likely to be financially viable because the high volumes of water sold can quickly repay the high installation costs of pre-paid meters.
The key constraints for institutional pre-payment meters are that governments need political will to stand by such systems, and some decision-makers have concerns about the ethics of putting strategic institutions such as schools, hospitals or police stations at risk of being cut off. In Lusaka for instance, LWSC made an exception for the city’s main hospital, which was simultaneously equipped with a PPS and a bypass system to ensure that it would not run out of water.