When I read the headline on the water tariff hikes by Chitungwiza Town Council last Sunday, one woman immediately came to my mind, Granny Elizabeth.
I first met Granny Elizabeth sometime last year.Seeing how she was struggling to walk I spoke to her to find out if she needed any help. We spoke briefly and we went our separate ways. I decided to ask more about her life when I met her for the second time at the same intersection, months later. This is when she told me that she works at a nearby doctor’s residence hall as a cleaner. Granny Elizabeth looks well in her 80s, at her age she should not be in formal work but because she has to take care of 15 orphaned grandchildren she had to find a job. She told me her children died of AIDS.
It the same conversation, she told me that she lives in Chtungwiza in the house she and her husband owned before he died. On both occasions that I met her, she was taking a 30 to 45 minute walk to the city centre from her workplace to board buses home. She decided to take those long walks in order to save money. Considering her age and health I doubt if she is able to do much to earn enough to cater adequately for all her grandchildren. I have not met her since last year.
Granny Elizabeth is one of the more than 350 000 residents who will soon be having to pay USc83 per cubic meter of water once the new tariffs are effected. The increase comes when Chitungwiza residents are only getting tap water twice a week. Chitungwiza is only receiving 29 megalitres of the 434 mega litres it should be getting from Harare weekly.
Justifying the increase, the authorities seemed pleased that they had managed to convince rate payers to move from ‘loss making tariffs to slightly commercial ones’.
Quoted in a local newspaper Dr Geroge Mukunde who is Chitungwiza’s Town Clerk said, “Council made very good progress when it got the ministry’s approval to commercialise water and sanitation services”.
A growing trend in water commercialisation in Zimbabwe.
The move by Chitungwiza Town Council may sound good in business sense but it compromises access to clean and safe water for residents. A constant and consistent supply of clean and safe water is already absent in Chitungwiza yet the council says, the situation will improve after the tariffs have been effected.
The same justification was given when the Harare City Council launched a pilot project for pre-paid water meters. A water commercialisation trend is spreading in cities and towns around the country such as Beitbrdge, Kwekwe, Masvingo and Rusape. Authorities resposnsible for these areas have considered installing pre-paid water meters and some of these councils are going ahead with the installations. With such a system, it means anyone who will be unable to pay for the water will have no access to water making it a ‘pay first and claim your right situation’.
Residents in towns and cities around the country have been experiencing sudden water cuts, days and weeks of water rationing and some have even gone for years with dry taps. Instead of working to improve the situation, it has become a national song by councils that tariffs must go up first before service delivery is improved.
Amid all these decisions being made without much consideration on the effects they have on residents, women and children continue to pray the price for the failure of those responsible for the provision of clean and safe water.
It’s a price for women to pay
Several problems arise from the issues I have articulated above. When tariffs increase beyond the reach of many, residents fail to pay and they incur arrears. This results in water disconnections and someone has to pay for reconnection. When there are regular water cuts or long periods of rationing, households run out of water and someone has to find water somewhere. When the water being supplied is not clean and safe, families have to find alternative sources and these are usually far away..
In each of the scenarios given, women are in the picture as rate payers, or as those physically responsible for finding alternative sources of water. For as long as health, nutrition and hygiene are considered women’s responsibilities then water remains a feminist issue.
It is even worse in the case of Granny Elizabeth, who is also responsible for paying the bills in addition to the hygiene and nutrition. Even if she manages to pay the water bill, she still has to make sure when there is a dry spell there is water in the house for her grandchildren. Her dependents also have to assist by fetching water which will take away their study time if they are still in school.
In households, where men are breadwinners, women are still responsible for making water available in the event that the man fails to pay the water bill and authorities have disconnected them. If there are water cuts walking long distances to fetch water will only add a load to women’s unpaid work.
Shortage of clean and safe water usually leads to outbreaks of diseases such as Cholera and Typhoid. Care for the sick is a responsibility often left for women, because our patriarchal societies make it the responsibility of women to do all the unpaid work.
When women spend most of their time on unpaid work, their time for empowerment activities like education and paid work is limited. Already women have limited economic and educational opportunities because of the positions our societies have given them. In some cases, the belief that women are responsible for all the unpaid work has resulted in them being forced out of the school or work by circumstances. This again compromises women’s ability to earn a living in order to pay their own bills.
Who is speaking for women when these decisions are made?
Decisions to increase water tariffs, install pre-paid water meters or increase water rationing periods are made in high offices where women have little or no representation. So far no Southern African country has reached the 50:50 representation ratio in government, council or local authority offices. The fewer women sitting in these influential offices are at a disadvantage because of fewer numbers.
More women with feminist minds need to be elevated to positions of power. This will enable them to contribute or even lead local and national planning decisions on financial budgets and development projects that will prioritise women’s access to necessities such as water. The more we continue to have man dominate decision making offices, the longer women will have to compensate for failures on provision of services such as clean water.
Facts about water and women
- In rural Benin, girls ages 6-14 spend an average of one hour a day collecting water compared with 25 minutes for their brothers.
- In Malawi, there are large variations in the amount of time allocated for water collection based on seasonal factors, but women consistently spend four to five times longer than men on this task.
- In Tanzania, a survey found school attendance to be 12 per cent higher for girls in homes located 15 minutes or less from a water source than in homes one hour or more away. Attendance rates for boys appeared to be far less affected by distance from water sources.
- In 12% of households children carry the main responsibility for collecting water, with girls under 15 years of age being twice as likely to carry this responsibility as boys under the age of 15 years.
- Research in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that women and girls in low-income countries spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water—the equivalent of a year’s worth of labour by the entire Work force in France.
- In Africa, 90% of the work of gathering water and wood, for the household and for food preparation, is done by women.
- Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to be the family member responsible for fetching water.
- Women and girls are responsible for water collection in seven out of ten households in 45 developing countries.
- Over half of the developing world’s primary schools don’t have access to water and sanitation facilities. Without toilets, girls often drop out at puberty.
- Almost two-thirds, 64% of households rely on women to get the family’s water when there is no water source in the home.
- 783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide.
- 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are without access to improved reliable drinking water sources
- Sub-Saharan Africa is among the regions with the greatest drinking water spending needs, with the greatest investment needs in rural areas.
- Two thirds or about 102 million of the 159 million people still using surface water live in Sub-Saharan Africa
- 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water.
- 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases.
- In developing countries, as much as 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.
- 1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are without improved sanitation facilities.
- Exposure to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene is a leading cause of cholera and a variety of infectious and tropical diseases in the African Region.
The average container for water collection in Africa, the jerry can, weighs over 40 lbs (Approx 20 litres) when full.
Main Image taken from www.new Zimbabwe.com