By Ms. W. Ngugi
When one opens the tap expecting clean water to come gushing out and all they get is spurts of air, the normal reaction in Kenya is ‘ oh no, not again’. To many the lack of water even for a day is unimaginable but it is a nightmare many urbanites in Kenya have learnt to live with especially in middle to lower income neighbourhoods. This does not stop one from wondering why there would be water shortages in a country bordering the source of the nile. The answer is not that life is unfair; instead it is a vicious cycle that begins with the poor revenue position of Water Authorities in Kenya due to inefficient collection mechanisms which leads to under investment and expansion of infrastructure which in turn stems into poor service and infrastructure breakdown. The result, consumer apathy and non payment further deteriorating the revenue position of water boards, and as you guessed, the evil cycle continues!
So what can be done to end this madness? TagMeter Namibia, a subsidiary of HengariHoff seems to have the solution for Kenyans and Africa as a whole. Since its inception in 2004, TagMeter Namibia has implemented pre-paid water metering projects for the City of Windhoek, Otjiwarongo Municipality, NamWater, Opuwo Town Council, Rehoboth Town Council, Aranos Town Council and Outapi Town Council in Namibia. More and more Councils in Namibia are turning to their IRWM pre-paid water metering system to enhance the revenue position to ensure a steady cash flow for reinvestment in the water and sewerage network.
The mission of the Hengarihoff group is clear: to solve the challenges of resource allocation and management confronting Africa today through the implementation of appropriate technologies. Thus, TagMeter Namibia was founded to assist African utilities and local authorities to enhance their revenue collection and water management capacities by investigating and implementing new approaches to water demand management.
At TagMeter Namibia, the belief is that universal access to potable water and sanitation services in Africa can only be achieved by guaranteeing revenue for the service providers. Improved revenue allows for investments to extend the reticulation network to previously unserved areas and to improve service for those areas currently underserved. Both their products, the IRWM pre-paid water metering system as well as the GSM automatic meter reading system ensure that billing costs can be reduced while guaranteeing maximum revenues.
The IRWM pre-paid water meter can be used as either a conventional water meter or a pre-paid water meter depending on the requirements of the consumer and Municipality/Utility. The idea is to provide the Municipality/Utility with a meter they can install across their entire supply area regardless of whether the consumer wants or does not want pre-payment as his method of payment. When the consumer starts to default, the Municipality/Utility can use the exact same meter to convert the consumer to pre-paid water metering to collect revenue for current consumption including outstanding arrears.
Infra-red communication is used as the data carrier between the meter and management system and the management system and the meter. Infra-red, unlike, chip cards or other contact systems, ensures communication in all climates. The IRWM pre-paid water metering system has been specifically adapted for our unique African environment making it robust and reliable. The management system for the meters is a web application based on an SQL database which makes it easy to create and sustain remote vending solutions for pre-paid water credits.
This advanced water system is the new kid on the block in Kisumu were TagMeter is implementing a pilot project which will see the introduction of a prepaid water metering system which will enhance KIWASCO’S revenue collection and water management capacities.
‘’We are keen to implement more pilot projects with leading water companies across Kenya. TagMeter Namibia will supply all the components and services for the pilot project at no cost to your water company. ‘’ said TagMeter Project Manager, Mr. Nathan Tjirimuje.
Adem Achieng is one of the privileged, resident of Kisumu’s Nyalenda slums were the first prepaid water meters have been installed. She smiles to herself as she checks her shopping list, item number one, fresh clean water. She is assured that what she paid for is what she uses. As she tops up her account her son looks up at her and says ‘’ now you don’t have to say we’re just paying for air mama.’’
Adem’s story should not be an isolated one; it should be Kenya’s story. A story of progression towards accountability and transparency not only within the water sector but in all aspects of our lives as engendered in our new constitution.