Monday May 6 could not have come with better news. The Prime Minister Dr Edouard Ngirente inaugurated two water treatment plants.
The Nzove I Water Treatment Plant, had been pumping 40,000 cubic meters per day. After the multi-billion Francs upgrade, it now produces 65,000 every day into Kigali.
Nzove II plant was upgraded from 25,000 to 40,000 cubic meters per day.
For some few hours, the social media buzz over the development painted the false impression that all those who have for years been complaining about getting no water for weeks, would finally go silent.
According to the Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), there are about 175,000 homes with taps connected to the WASAC water-supply network. The majority of these are in the capital Kigali, where there are 104,000 taps.
The City of Kigali’s water system has to cater for more than 1.2m people.
For starters, the current national piped water production is about 140,000m3 per day. The City of Kigali alone needs least 110,000m3 per day, according to government estimates.
From its upgraded plants, WASAC is pumping 105,000 m3 per day, all of it going to Kigali. This amount of water should be enough to reach nearly all homes, with very few hours during which there may be no water.
That is the wish. The reality is much more different.
For many neighborhoods of Kigali, residents have resorted to buying water from cariers on bicycles who sell by 20-litre jerrycans. Depending on where you live, a jerrycan goes for as high as Rwf 500.
In the Kabeza suburb, without Rwf 500, you cannot get water. In Kimironko, you need to have Rwf 400. The same with Kicukiro.
In a typical working Kigali family, that can go for more than a week without seeking water flow from their taps, the price – as they buy jerrycans, can be unbearable, to say the least.
Despite the shortages, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) opted for a rather bizarre move.
Effective February, new tariff for water came into force.
Residentials that consume between 5 and 20 cubic meters (over 5,000 litres but not more than 20,000 litres per month) of water, shall pay Rwf720 from Rwf331, a 118% increase.
With a cubic meter being equal to 50 jerrycans of 20 litres, many homes consume this much in a matter of days.
In the first days of the hike, the numbers did not make much sense, until the water invoices began coming in.
Somebody posted on social media that their bill had risen from paying Rwf 9,000 per month for water and had received a Rwf 60,000 invoice. They posted the bill as well.
Ingabire Marie Immaculee, head of Transparency Rwanda, went a step further, writing that she would stop using “WASAC water” for some time and replace it with Nyabarongo river water.
“….I will shower once a week, do laundry once in 3 months, I will only cook fries and then simply wait for my death,” said Ingabire sarcastically on Twitter.
In seeming reaction to the deteriorating public image of WASAC, as post after another claimed their bill had more than quadrupled. Local radio talk shows were not any better for the utility agencies.
The vast majority of the social media posts were mocking the water agency for increasing water bills yet there was no water in the first place dripping out of the taps.
While the reaction on social media may not necessarily be representative of the entire country, those on such platforms are likely to be with ability to pay for the water anyway. However, the fact they they can complain so vigorously may be reflective of how the lowest Rwandans are feeling.
An impromptu press conference was held this past Monday. Eng. Patricie Uwase, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) led their team including WASAC Chief Executive Officer Eng. Aime Muzola and RURA Director General Lt Col Patrick Nyirishema.
“Rwandans waste so much water as they want because they don’t know its value,” said Lt Col Nyirishema, arguing that part of the reason water bills had been increased was “so that Rwandans can learn how to use water appropriately”.
Nyirishema said residential consumers pay only 26.2% of the actual cost of water supply in their homes as the government covers 73.8% through the massive investments it makes.
For WASAC’s CEO Muzola: “Some people use a jerrycan of 20 litres to brush their 32 teeth. Almost all Rwandans don’t know how to use water. Some open their taps and they leave without closing them. When they are washing their cars, they use soo much water because its cheap.”
The boss of the above two officials, Permanent Secretary Uwase, preferred to give a more optimistic message, detailing the millions of dollars government was putting into availing clean piped water.
“…we are investing $440 million in the next three years starting the next fiscal year,” she said. “$282 million will be invested in water infrastructures in urban areas and $139 million to be invested in water infrastructures in rural areas.”
Uwase said that by 2022 all water treatment plants will have been completed, going on to list the eight plants.
Similar projects are being implemented in secondary cities such as Musanze, Rubavu, Rusizi, Muhanga, Huye and Nyagatare.
According to the statistics released in September last year, for 2017, WASAC incurred a loss of 4,464,605 cubic metres due to meter bursts, leakages and illegal connections, representing 38.7 per cent of the total supplied water while another 309,567 m3 loss was due to back washing and network flushing.
Part of what the millions of dollars investment that the water supplier must make urgently is fix the piping system.
Government data shows that apart from few neighbourhoods that are new like Nyarutarama, Kibagabaga and Kagugu, the biggest portion of the pipes are more than 40 years old.
No week goes by without a major rupture of the pipe, causing huge loss of water by the time the damage is settled.