As the recent disruption in the worldwide economy suggests, we have a global economic system. This economic system relies heavily on the concept of supply and demand. We allocate a price to anything tradeable in the economy. These tradeable goods run the gamut from clothes, chemicals, televisions, homes, drugs, cars, tools, land, food, and even water. Water is sold in our economy in a variety of ways in the commercial, private, and public sectors. While placing a value on water may encourage conservation of water supplies in some situations, not everyone in the world has the means to pay money for water. Case in point, prepaid water meters.
Prepaid meters are hooked to a water-supply system and require the user pay before retrieving water. US-based NGOs Public Citizen and Food and Water Watch warn of the dangers of prepaid water meters in predominantly poor areas of the world. Prepaid water meters are currently used in Brazil, Curacao, Egypt, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, the Philippines, Uganda, and the United States. The photos below are from Tetsane, Maseru (Lesotho) in South Africa during April 2008.
A recent article in ADBUSTERS detailed the plight of one South African community challenging the legality of prepaid water meters. In 2006, several residents of Phiri, Soweto filed a suit against the City of Johannesburg in South Africa declaring that prepaid water meters were unconstitutional. A landmark ruling earlier this year affirmed the unconstitutionality of prepaid water meters in Phiri. The ruling also declared that the City should provide Phiri residents with 50 liters (roughly 13 gallons) of free water for every person each day instead of the previous allocation of 25 liters for every person each day. This ruling was a success for the citizens of Phiri in South Africa, but there are still many other towns around the world facing similar challenges with prepaid water meters. For more information, please visit the Public Citizen and Food and Water Watch websites.