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Meter madness

Sydney Lenssen is right to highlight the issue of the World Bank and its requirement to install domestic water meters as a prerequisite for funding (NCE 30 April). I have come across it in many parts of the world and never cease to wonder at its naivety.

Water meters rarely last more than five years in developing countries, even with adequate maintenance and they do not work in areas of intermittent supply - ie the majority of developing counties. The result is a diversion of funding, expertise and effort into a non-productive project which is resented by the client.

The priority, as always, is to provide a reliable supply of adequate potable quality; and only when this is achieved, and the water system is under continuous pressure can meters be installed with any prospect of success. Even then, they are only of use where there is political/ financial stability and the 'beneficiaries' have the wherewithal to pay. This usually limits their use to the business community and more affluent areas of the capital.

If WB was to carry out a meaningful study of the long term effectiveness of its metering requirements it would no longer adhere to this muddled policy.

Peter W Styles (M), 6 Warren Drive, Solihull B93 8JY.

Service charge

After water meters and water supply, Sydney Lenssen must now turn his attention to gas, electricity and telephones. Why should these be metered? Let us all use these services as much as we like for some standard annual charge and save all the money on reading meters, billing, etc.

In this brave new world we can keep the lights on all night, turn up the central heating, leave taps running and talk incessantly to auntie in Australia. What a good idea to get rid of the outdated idea that you pay for what you use.

EM Wilson (F), 12 Headlands Road, Bramhall, Stockport SK7 3AN.

Controlling demand

Sydney Lenssen returns to express once more his vehement opposition to the metering of public water supplies. He quotes no source of his highlighted assertion that 'less than half the cost of services (provided by the water companies) is related to water consumption'. The reality is that water supply is capital-intensive, while the disposal of wastewater accounts for a major proportion of water bills and is closely linked toconsumption.

Lenssen urges the directors of the water companies to 'become proactive' without pointing any clear direction for them to take. True, there are legitimate arguments on equity, distribution and natural resource grounds as to the best way of charging for supplies. But over large and heavily- populated areas of the south and east of England water consumption is rapidly approaching the limits imposed by rainfall and the natural hydrological cycle. How then are supply and demand to be brought into balance, other than through the pricing mechanism? The issue is not whether a market philosophy is appropriate to this particular public service, but how best to prevent demand from outstripping resources.

PG O'Neill (M),Traffic Solutions, The Old Village Hall, Cocking, West Sussex GU29 OHN.

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