THE introduction of prepaid meters for basic utilities such as electricity and water will sink poor households deeper into poverty as they may not be able to pay cash upfront for the services, the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) has said.
PRFT executive director Judith Kaulem said since many people were already struggling to meet the cost of essential services, prepaid payment systems were not the solution to the power challenges the country is facing.
In notes accompanying the trust’s basic needs basket for September which saw the cost of living for an urban family of five in Harare increase by 0,14% to $525, Kaulem said the new system had so far shown not to be the solution.
While Zesa has already started installing the system, Harare City Council has also indicated that it was considering a similar move for the payment of water.
“If this proposal is going to be implemented, the implications are that residents will soon have to pay for their water consumption upfront, a move which may have some detrimental effects to the poor and vulnerable households,” she said.
Kaulem said following the adoption of prepaid meter reading for electricity in Mutare, the city’s basic needs basket for a family of five now required an average of $65 for electricity costs alone, up from an average of $50.
“Under this prepayment system, the residents who cannot afford to pay will increasingly resort to alternatives like use of firewood and unsafe water, rendering them more vulnerable to diseases associated with poor sanitation such as cholera and typhoid,” Kaulem said.
Under the new system, she said, poor households no longer have the grace to use payment plans on debt settlement while accessing electricity and water.
She added that the latest developments have put a damper on the debt write off plan instituted by the government in July.
Zesa has been battling to supply adequate power to the nation while most urban councils have also been struggling to supply enough potable water to residents due to economic challenges.