NamWater disconnects Zambezi defaulters …no water, no vote – community

NamWater disconnects Zambezi defaulters …no water, no vote – community

KATIMA MULILO – Several households in the Zambezi region find themselves in a precarious situation after NamWater disconnected their water points over non-payment.

The bills, which run into thousands of dollars, date back to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, which brought economic activity to a standstill.

Most of these affected areas largely depend on community water points, some of which were set up by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic as a safety measure to ensure hygiene, and where residents were allowed to use water for free.

As a result, residents became reluctant to pay for their water bills, which accumulated into unmanageable bills.
Some of the affected residents, largely in Sibbinda and part of Linyanti constituencies, owe over N$400 000 in water arrears that accumulated over the past four years.
The affected villages include Kanono, Masokotwani, Malundu, Lusu, Chinchimani, Kikiya, Linyanti, Muketela, Kasheshe and Bito.
Affected Chinchimani resident Mutabani Siseho described the situation as dire. 

“It’s like the punishment they gave us. Most community members here, at Chinchimani, are using a community water tank, and it’s closed. 

The bill is so high, and people who are mainly unemployed and poor can’t afford to settle it. Our bill stands above N$150 000. The bill accumulated when Covid-19 started, as the government said people could use water for free,” Siseho bemoaned.
According to him, the community members were surprised when NamWater disconnected their water points two months ago.

He claims the water utility did not consult them on discontinuing water connections.
Due to the dire circumstances, the community members are now buying water from neighbours whose individual taps are paid up.

A 25-litre container of water costs about N$10.
“After all, the government brought us maize meal, but we have no water to cook. We are dying of thirst. Our livestock are also stranded without water. Our cattle are walking more than five kilometres in search of water, as community water points are closed. More than 200 people are affected in our area,” Siseho, who is also a community development centre chairperson in Chinchimani, said.


Put simply, the residents find themselves between the proverbial rock and the hard place, with little to no room to manoeuvre.
Another resident complained that their gardens have since dried up due to a lack of water.

“They are pushing us to vote while they closed our doors. We can’t vote when our water points are closed. It’s a serious concern, as water is life,” complained a resident, who preferred anonymity.
The affected communities are requesting government assistance to write off their water debts, citing Covid-19 relief measures that were put in place.
Kanono headman Bothman Sikute confirmed the situation, saying he does not know how his community and livestock will survive without water, as it has been a dry spell this year.
“During Covid-19, people were told to use water for free. We never knew we had to start paying for it. We only saw NamWater closing the taps. We don’t know how cattle are going to survive. We have no wells or boreholes. The majority of water points are closed in Kanono,” he said.
Sikute touched on once-thriving horticulture, saying the business is dying, as people cannot water their produce anymore. “People used to water, and sell cabbages and tomatoes – but since NamWater closed the taps, there is no more gardening. Kanono is no longer Kanono. People were eager to feed the region, but most taps are closed. Some people owe N$10 000, while others owe N$15 000 or more. People are buying water from magistrates and directors whose taps are running,” he lamented.

Sikute suggested the government subsidises residents to get water, and drill boreholes in the area.

Sibbinda councillor Mickey Lukaezi acknowledged that some residents owe as much as over N$400 000 in water bills around the Kikiya area along the Linyanti pipeline.

“All people and their livestock depended on that water pipeline, as they had no other water source. The Linyanti River got dried up. They brought their livestock to that Kikiya water point, but it’s closed now. The government promised to pay all water bills derived from Covid-19. There were no notices that NamWater would cut the water,” Lukaezi alluded.
He added that people did not harvest anything this year to sell and pay the huge bills – and they are unemployed.
Therefore, he said, livestock walk as far as 20 kilometres in search of water, which he says compromises their survival.
He said people want the government to reconnect their water points, as it is a year of drought. 

“It’s really an injustice to close water during a drought. You give people food items without water. I don’t see the point of the government giving food while people and livestock are thirsty. Most of our underground water is salty, and not fit for human consumption. People don’t have boreholes due to our water table, which makes saline. The whole of Sibbinda relies on NamWater to provide water,” he maintained.
Lukaezi said more than 50 community water points, including individual taps, have been disconnected.


Contacted for comment, NamWater spokesperson Lot Ndamanomhata said the entity operates on a cost-recovery principle to ensure sustainability. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, government directives allowed residents to use water without immediate payment, which led to significant arrears in many accounts, ranging from N$200 000 to N$400 000.
“As pointed out by the community members, a lot of accounts are indeed in arrears, and these debts have become unsustainable for the community members still relying on these shared water points. 

Additionally, many community members have transitioned to individual water supplies, reducing the number of users on these shared points. 

He clarified that the supply of water to rural areas is the responsibility of the Department of Rural Water Supply.

He said between 2010 and 2018, three pipeline extensions, namely Katima-Sibbinda, Katima-Chinchimane-Linyanti and Katima-Ngoma, were constructed under a project run by the agriculture ministry. 

Several community water points were installed during these projects. 

After the completion of these pipeline projects, the assets were transferred to NamWater for operation and maintenance, including water metres and community water points, he explained.

“The arrangement post-transfer was that community water points would be managed by individuals under the community development or village development committees. These individuals were responsible for collecting money from all beneficiaries of a water point and making payments to NamWater. Unfortunately, in many cases, community leaders mismanaged the collected funds, resulting in no payments to NamWater and significant vandalism of the community water points,” Ndamanomhata said.

He added each water point has an account that is billed monthly. 

According to him, NamWater in the past used to send water bills to individual customers – but as of recently, it is exploring the possibilities of a bulk SMS solution.

For shared community water points, he noted residents were encouraged to apply for individual connections before any closures, as the shared points were no longer sustainable.

Furthermore, he highlighted that vandalism and waste at many of these points contributed to high non-revenue water costs for NamWater, prompting the need for closure.

The water utility urged those with unpaid accounts and suspended services to visit their nearest NamWater office to arrange a payment plan. 

Additionally, affected individuals should work with their community and political leaders to establish an engagement platform for finding solutions. 

“We encourage our customers to keep their accounts current by making monthly payments to maintain manageable balances. NamWater provides water on a cost recovery principle due to the operational costs involved, such as electricity, fuel, chemicals, human resources and maintenance,” Ndamanomhata said.