Prepaid Water Meters Are a Game Changer
Most households in the arid and semiarid areas of Kenya don’t have water connections and rely heavily on communal water kiosks and standpipes for their water. These communal water sources have traditionally been managed by Water Management Committees (WMCs) and have struggled with accountability and sustainability. Despite communities paying for water at these water collection points, the projects still run at a deficit and repairs and maintenance to any of the infrastructure is often dependent on external help. Poor record keeping leaves an information gap on financial sustainability and other data on how well these communal points are running. In addition, the Water Management Committees have a high turnover and most people leave without sharing critical information. Consequently, these water projects often rely on financial support from county governments and development partners and continuously struggle with the same challenges. When financial support is limited (from either of the partners) breakdowns occur in community-run water points due to mismanagement. With lack of access to safe drinking water, communities resort to getting water from unprotected water sources, exposing them to water borne diseases. This often makes people too sick to go to school or work and places a health burden on the county government and its facilities.
Prepaid Water Meters (PWMs) are among the innovative technologies being applied to improve governance in water provision to communities. USAID funded Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (Kenya RAPID) is a five year program that leverages resources from public and private sector institutions to accelerate achievement of universal access to water services, has facilitated the installation of prepaid water meters in communal water kiosks in four arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) counties in northern Kenya (Marsabit, Isiolo, Turkana and Wajir). The technology, which has revolutionized the management of water kiosks, was first piloted in Marsabit County in collaboration with Maji Milele (a private sector company); and since then, many other water user committees in the ASAL counties have been installing the meters. Prior to installing the prepaid water meters, whoever was responsible for collecting water revenues from the collection points had the discretion of declaring revenue amount for the day while retaining the rest for possible personal use, and the water point would be closed to be re-opened the following day. Some management committees adopted the practice of most of their members spending the whole day at the water point supervising revenue collection from water sales as a measure of ensuring transparency. This meant that all of them would be paid their daily allowances for their input. These arrangements meant that funds were spent ensuring transparency instead of being used for operations and maintenance purposes and any small technical problem affecting the water point such as a burst pipe would ground the system and surrounding communities would go without water until external help was available.
How the technology works
A prepaid water meter is a device which measures the paid upfront amount of water supplied to a consumer. Consumers prepay for their water demands (in advance) and are issued a chip loaded with tokens, which they use to fetch water at the kiosk during any time (day and night). Consumers therefore do not have to worry about the attendant opening or closing the water point to access water. Users top up by mobile money service i.e M-PESA (a mobile-based money transfer service).
Benefits of the technology
This technology has led to a notable increase in revenue from water sales and a reduction in levels of non-revenue water. The consumers are more responsible while fetching water by ensuring that any water that gets out of the tap is captured by their jerricans. Previously, water loss and spillage would be borne by the management of the system. With the water meters, consumers are able to collect water at a time most convenient to them, reducing long queues of people that were previously lining up to collect water before the kiosks closed. On average, queues reduced from two hours to thirty minutes. Armed with the tokens, consumers, who are mostly women, are able to invest their saved time engaging in gainful economic activities such as livestock production, small scale crop farming and improved childcare practices while girls are now able to spend more time in school. All of these benefit and impact community resilience.
The use of this technology has culminated into doubling or tripling of revenues, some of which are ring fenced for operations and maintenance to ensure well-run systems continue. The technology has contributed towards increased access to water services, particularly for marginalized populations and contributes to the achievement of SDG targets related to universal access to safe water. Plans are underway to install bulk prepaid water meters for livestock water troughs and water bowsers in Marsabit and Wajir counties to maximize similar benefits and to improve sustainability of the water projects.