The aim of the WSUP Master Class is to share learning across our country programmes and with our partners to develop action plans for how things can be done better in each programme. During the week, we will be focusing on water provision to low-income consumers (LICs) and faecal sludge management (FSM) systems.
The week kicked off with a day led by Uganda’s National Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC). They gave an introduction on their activities, with an emphasis on their pro-poor work. The highlight of the day was a field trip to two low-income areas of Kampala – Bwaise (pronounced BWYE-SAY) and Kisenyi (pronounced CHEE-SEN-YEE), in the heat of the equatorial sunshine.
In Kisenyi (the focus of this blog), we saw the way NWSC operates pre-paid meters, a technology which we are implementing in the WSUP Kenya programme in Nakuru through ACF funds. Pre-paid meters are one effective way of reducing revenue losses for the water company, since water can only be obtained by using an electronic token which has already had money loaded onto it.
- Water is dispensed automatically when the token is inserted, which means that the consumer effectively deals directly with the water company. Since middle-man water vendors can raise the price of water by as much as 5-10 times, exploiting the customer, this direct relationship is important to enable low income consumers to access cheap water. This also ensures that no water can be bought from the company without paying, whereas vendors could, in the past, get to the end of the month and refuse to pay the water bill.
- Water comes directly from NWSC. Previously, the source could be mixed or an illegal connection, so the quality is now likely to be improved.
- NWSC still requires vendors, but these are now sellers of credit rather than water. Since the credit is a digital commodity, it is much easier to ensure accountability, rather than trying to regulate all of the water vendors, as could have been the case in the past.
- The vendors are given training on marketing and given a 10% commission on the credit they sell, to help them make their profits without inflating the prices.
- Credit vendors are carefully selected in strategic locations so that regular opening hours are ensured. Before, water sellers could simply close business at any time, but now the credit should be accessible any time of day, and anyone with credit can proceed without assistance to obtain water.
- Dispensers of this kind are charged the lowest NWSC tariff of 25 Ugandan shillings for a 20l jerry can (approximately 0.6 UK pence, or 1 US cent) to encourage residents to use enough water for their daily needs, rather than being constrained by affordability.
- NWSC pays for the dispensers and any necessary repairs, with no contribution from the community. The potential danger of the approach is that the community lacks any sense of ownership of the equipment as they have not invested in it, which can lead to ill-treatment of or a lack of care for it. However, NWSC’s belief is that the benefits to all – lower prices for more guaranteed quality water at any time of day – are so great (except perhaps to former vendors who lose a good income) that the community is incentivised to protect the technology even though they have not invested in it.
- One of the drawbacks of this technology is that the water can come out very quickly while the token is inserted and may take a second or two after removing the token to stop. This can result in spillage which will be charged to the customer rather than to the water company.
NWSC gave a great demonstration of the importance of the service provider having a good relationship with their customers, through accountable middle men who sell credit rather than water. This has enabled the area of Kisenyi, and many other areas in Kampala, to receive better quality services (reliable, quality supply at any time) at much more affordable prices than were previously possible.