‚Prepaid metres are not being installed in the rich suburbs nor in the industrial areas where vast amounts of water is being consumed. They are only being installed in the working class areas, where the majority of the black population live. On the other side of town there are no prepaid meters. The result is that those who can afford to pay are able to use as much as they please whereas those without means are often left without water and must pay in advance for any water they might use.”
-Jade McClune, “Water Privatisation in Namibia: Creating a New Apartheid?”
Like its neighbor, South Africa, Namibia has embraced the use of prepaid water meters. The impact of this technology on the poor has been predictable: less access to water results in health problems that would be easily avoided with proper access to safe water.
Key used for a prepaid water meter.
(Photo by Ahmed Veriava.)
On the sandy outskirts of the coastline city of Swakopmund, you will find an informal settlement named by residents as the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC). The million-dollar mansions, predominately owned by white people, are a far cry from the tin shacks of the DRC, located less than five kilometers away and populated by black Namibians. Prepaid water meters were installed in the DRC in 2001, despite the strong protests. Community members had been asking city officials for sanitation services, water supply for individual houses, electricity and other basic services for years.
Since the installation of the meters, DRC residents have suffered from a lack of water and have been forced to draw unclean water from open sources, leading to outbreaks of diarrhea. The prepaid water meters break easily which has made it almost impossible to extinguish fires in the community, several of which burned down shacks and even killed community members.
In Khorixas, prepaid meters were removed due to limescale damage from the high concentration of lime in the water. Namwater, the main water utility has even cut off water supply to schools, hospitals and even entire towns like Khorixas in an attempt to force cost recovery from poor populations.
Nossob River Systems, the manufacturer of many of the prepaid meters in Namibia, signed a N$35 million deal with the government to upgrade water systems and install prepaid meters in 2002, but 8,000 of their meters proved to be defective.
Far from increasing access to safe water, prepaid meters in Namibia have endangered citizens and further entrenched class differences created under Apartheid.
Read Jade McClune’s complete report on pre-paid water meters and privatization in Namibia.