Comparative Assessment of Performance of Urban Water Supply Systems in Small Towns of Zimbabwe
Murinda, Sharon S
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One of the major challenges faced by residents of small urban towns globally is that of poor Water and Sanitation Service delivery. The management of urban water services has become very important in the wake of the cholera outbreak of 2008-09 which claimed more than 4000 lives in Zimbabwe. The outbreak was linked to poor WS systems delivery. The poor quality of service was attributed to the economic collapse of the country which to some extent affected the capacity of local councils to manage water supply services. The economic collapse also affected the capacity of residents to pay for water services. In the aftermath of the near collapse of the water supply systems in urban areas, the government directed the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) to take-over the water supply systems in most of the urban areas, resulting in towns such as Gokwe and Karoi having their water supply systems managed by ZINWA. However, in some urban areas local councils retained the management of water supply systems. This study compares the water supply systems of selected small urban towns in Zimbabwe which are Chipinge, Gokwe, Karoi and Rusape. Financial and governance aspects of water resources management are major contributors to the collapse or sustainability of water supply systems and these were investigated. Data collection for the study was done through key informant interviews covering governance issues, revenue collection, water tariff setting processes, technical issues and stakeholder involvement in urban water management. A total of 765 household questionnaires investigating customer perceptions on service delivery, willingness and ability to pay, impact of water tariffs on household water use and stakeholder involvement in the management of urban water supply services were administered in the four towns. Both the ZINWA and council water supply management systems in the four towns were found to have active institutional and legal structures but service delivery was generally poor. Consistence of water supply in the areas was found to be largely affected by recurrent power cuts while the breakdown of equipment affected water treatment and supply capacity. Although there was high meter coverage (ranging from 82-94%) functionality of meters was low mostly for the council managed water supply systems. Revenue collection was found to be very low accounting for less than 30% of the billed amount for both water supply systems. This was due to customers‟ low willingness to pay for reasons which included poor service delivery, poor customer care service, inaccuracy of bills and poor water quality. Unaccounted for water was found to be above 30% for council managed systems and less than 15% for ZINWA managed water supply systems. Findings also show that there is little involvement of stakeholders in the setting of water tariffs. In conclusion, power cuts, poor customer care services, increased unaccounted for water, low stakeholder participation among other things have contributed to poor service delivery and low revenue collection in the four towns. Stakeholder participation is critical for the sustainability of urban water management and water supply systems. There was no significant difference in performance between Local council and ZINWA managed water supply systems because the performance indicators varied between the systems.