Bulawayo will soon adopt a you eat what you kill principle in managing its ever-dwindling water supplies.
Council is implementing a pilot project in the sprawling Cowdray Park suburb and hopes once fully operational the system will attract private investment.
But the move which shifts from the traditional system of using water and paying later has been condemned by some residents associations claiming that it is not pro-poor.
Although the project is still in its pilot phase, sceptics of the prepaid meter system say it would result in basic rights becoming privileges that are earned only by the depth of ones pocket.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association co-coordinator Rodrick Fayayo said council should have consulted widely before embarking on the project.
This new system is not welcome because it means whoever does not have money will not have access to water, he said.
Water will now be more of a commodity than a right. This system takes away the residents right of access to water.
Getrude Moyo of Cowdray Park said the move would leave families already struggling to make ends meet financially crippled. Families would be forced to reduce their consumption of water and to make difficult trade-offs between food, medicines or school fees, she argued.
Women would bear the brunt of such a move as they and children would have to go and fetch water from polluted sources instead of benefiting from improved infrastructure.
She said waterborne diseases would easily spread in households, which would fail to raise money to pay for water in advance. However, the system has backers in Cowdray Park with some residents saying it was welcome as long as it would improve water supplies.
The prepaid system should be speedily implemented. It would allow me to have more control over my water expenditure, Melody Ncube said.
The same system has worked well for mobile phone users and it is most welcome. Bulawayo councils senior public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu told NewsDay the $200 000 project aims to reduce the amount of non-revenue water from the current estimate of 35% to a maximum of 20% over the next five years.
The project was put in place with the aim of effectively managing the limited available water resources through a comprehensive water demand management programe funded by the Development Bank of Southern Africa to the tune of $200 000, Mpofu said.
The scope of the project is to prepare a study document that will also be in the input to a business plan for water demand management (water loss control).
The pilot project would be carried out by Bulawayo Home Seekers Consortium Trust (BHSCT) in Cowdray Park. Over the years, local authorities have struggled to collect revenue from its customers including residents, commercial entities and government departments forcing them to embark on extensive water cuts on defaulters.
Consumers would purchase vouchers linked to a credit card with a code that they feed into the meters and get credit units commensurate with the value. Failure to buy credit would result in one being automatically disconnected.
According to council documents, BHSCT would purchase water in bulk from the local authority and would sell the commodity to residents in the same way cellular phone airtime is sold.
The pre-paid water system is being used in South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia and Uganda. Gwanda mayor Lionel DeNecker said his council was also considering introducing the same system for the Matabeleland South capital.
Most of the time people fail to pay their water bills and this is a measure to make sure that people get the water they paid for so that they do not use water for free, he said.
Bulawayo needs between 117 00 and 120 000 cubic meters of water daily, but according to a latest council report, water rationing programmes have failed to significantly reduce consumption.
Mpofu said the broader scope of the project would cover the industrial areas, central business district, Makokoba, Nketa and Nkulumane suburbs including individual meters targeting schools, clinics, churches, shops, bus termini and police camps.