By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government moved Thursday to introduce a new billing system for the use of drinking water, decreeing that all individual consumers must have water meters in their homes before the end of 2003. Legal entities must install the measuring devices in the first half of this year.
Officials said the new requirement is the key element of a government drive to improve the extremely difficult situation with water supplies. The absence of effective bill enforcement mechanisms coupled with an obsolete infrastructure means that most Armenian households have running water only several hours a day. Water metering is seen as the only way of restoring around-the-clock supplies.
“As a result of water metering there will be more efficiency,” the head of the government department of water resources, Gagik Martirosian, told reporters. “Individual consumers and enterprises will eventually pay less and be better off.”
“The placement of meters in apartments and private houses will be carried out at citizens’ expense,” Martirosian said, adding that socially vulnerable families will be exempted from paying for the devices.
The design of apartment blocks in Armenia is such that most households will need two meters in order to measure the full amount of consumed water. A single device costs between $15 and $30 – a hefty sum by Armenian standards. The authorities are therefore bound to have difficulty forcing people to buy them.
They have yet to set the price of every liter of used water that will be charged under the new billing system. Under the existing system, state-owned water utilities charge households a fixed monthly fee of 420 drams ($0.75) per person. Only one third of them regularly pay their bills.
An Italian company that was granted five-year management rights to Yerevan's water supplies and sewerage network two years ago has so far failed to improve the poor collection of utility fees and the overall situation with water supplies. Senior executives from the A-Utility complain that a lack of administrative levers to ensure payment of bills is the root cause of the problem.
Much of the country’s Soviet-era water and sewerage infrastructure is outdated and in need of substantial investments. Government officials estimate that as much as 65 percent of drinking water is gets lost before reaching consumers.