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New Study Suggests Way to Provide Water to Namibia’s Poor


In Namibia, as in much of Africa, urban dwellers are often not able to pay for water and other basic services. But researchers say the problem could be addressed with varying payment structures that take into consideration the customer's level of poverty.

Anna Matros-Goreses is a PhD student at Cranfield University in Britain. Her study is part of research into the potential of regulating Namibia's water supply, taking into account the country's low rainfall and high level of poverty.

Matros-Goreses says the city of Windhoek has developed a system to develop and improve water access to low-income customers. She says under the system, the poor are placed in one of seven categories, with zero having no access at all to water for sanitation and seven indicating taps in the homes.

People are asked to disclose their income levels and then sign social impact agreements, which ensure that they understand that they are expected to take part in a communal effort to maintain their water services, such as cleaning dry toilets regularly.

Services are then provided and increased up to level seven, when taps are installed. "This again depends on what they can afford. As they develop, [the services] are upgraded to the next level," says Matros-Goreses.

She says because of Namibia's dry climate and shortage of rainfall and ensuring a sense of value of water resources and because of the importance of having customers understand the value of water, basic water services are not free, as they are in South Africa. But she says the city of Windhoek does help subsidize the price of water for communal services in informal areas, making it available for no basic charges.

She says communities pay local authorities according to the amount of water they use. There are also some price variations between summer and winter.

Matros-Goreses says another method of billing that is being considered includes metered taps, which the user can operate by purchasing a card with a designated amount of water. She says some community members prefer this method to ensure that everyone pays for the water they use. Paying for water is also believed to help promote conservation.

Matros-Goreses says her study found that the current system is not doing enough to ensure that water goes to the poorest of the poor – those between levels 0 and 1. She suggests that the city name someone to lead a public debate on the proper pricing for water for customers at the various economic levels of society. Part of that debate would include a discussion of why it is necessary to pay for water and how much customers are willing to pay. She says to create an effective and efficient water distribution system, the debate must include all of the public.