News Feature | April 10, 2014

Can God Persuade Customers To Pay Their Water Bills?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


One water provider is invoking religion to get its customers to pay up. 

The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) in Pakistan has begun sending customers the following text message: "Have you ever wondered if you've paid for the water you are using to perform wuzu?" 

Wuzu is the washing ritual Muslims traditionally perform before prayer, according to Atlantic Cities

Karachi has a problem: Only 10 percent of customers pay their water bills. In a new text-message campaign that invokes religious themes, KWSB is stepping up its efforts to make customers pay. 

Wajid Iqbal Siddiqui, a KWSB official, said customers sometimes invoke religion when asked why they are not paying their bills. The most frequent excuse, he told Atlantic Cities, is this: "Tomorrow, you’ll want to charge us for sunshine and the air we breathe. Water is Allah’s blessing. Why should we pay for it?"

Not all of KWSB's text messages invoke religion.

"Some merely tell customers to keep an eye out for their next bill and remind them to pay before the due date. Others contain tips on how to save water. Often, the texts alert customers about water supply disruptions and breakdowns — something that happens regularly in Karachi, with its aging and inadequate water infrastructure," the report said. 

KWSB computerized its billing system as recently as 2007, according to the report. By plunging into the digital age and making text pleas to customers, officials hope to increase revenue and "make water service more reliable," the report said.

But revenue is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Karachi's water problems. Just this month, KWSB officials predicted major upcoming difficulties. A KWSB spokesperson said lower dam levels and lower levels of rain will result in water shortages, according to the News Tribe

In the developing world, supply capacity cannot keep up with demand in many places. 

"Karachi experiences this syndrome to a large extent and consumers face the consequences of a faltering water supply for a sizeable period of time. People have resorted to various kinds of alternative arrangements and though these ensure a basic type of supply, at best they are quasi legal," according to Water Supply In Pakistan, an in-depth study published by Oxford University Press. 

Crime poses problems, as well.  

"Tanker trucks controlled by mafia gangs illegally pump water out of hydrants and sell it to desperate customers at inflated rates. KWSB doesn’t use water meters because there’s no money to pay for them and the power supply isn't consistent enough to run them anyway," Atlantic Cities reported. 

Image credit: "Crescent and star on mosque minaret," © 2009 Rudy Herman, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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