…as Govt drags its feet on desalination
While government is playing hide and seek with plans to construct a desalination plant, it has now emerged that Namibia is sitting on a ticking time bomb which will result in the country’s taps running dry within the next decade, if a N$7 billion investment into water infrastructure is not made.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Abraham Nehemia, who spoke at the 8th SADC River Basin Organisations Workshop that took place in Windhoek this week, warned that the current water shortages in Namibia is just a tip of the iceberg.
Nehemia confirmed that the country needs about N$7 Billion over the next 5 to 10 years for water security.
“This would not have been the case 10 years ago, but as overdevelopment, population growth, and climate change upset the balance between water use and supply, urban centers around the world increasingly face threats of severe drinking-water shortages. While it is not clear how much of the current dry spell is driven by natural variability as opposed to climate change, it is clear our current system is no longer reliable enough,” he said.
He added: “If you look at our boreholes in rural areas, they are already drying out by August. It means the aquifers no longer recharge to the usual level. The pumps are no longer in line with the water source. In some areas, you might get water but the water runs off very fast into the riverbeds because people have cleared the lands to build houses. Rivers like the Orange River, by October, you will be able to walk across as levels are dropping by the year.”
Nehemia said the country can no longer sit idle “as it is evident every year that future rainfall patterns would no longer resemble the past.”
This year alone, he said worryingly, dam levels around the country have been recorded to be less than 50% full. Such levels are sufficient to keep taps running for the next two years.
Water conflicts are expected to escalate in the future with more than 200 cities across the world running the risk of having their water demands exceeding the surface-water availability.
Just like the city of Cape Town, other cities in the SADC region are faced with the unenviable situation of being the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water. Namibia will not be spared this fiasco if no long-term interventions are put in place.
In March the United Nations urged countries to look to nature for better ways to maintain supplies of water, keep it clean, and protect people from droughts and floods. The UN also warned that if nothing is done, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050.
In fact, in 2016 Windhoek was already on the brink of running dry, thanks to risk management interventions that watered the country to date. Today, water management, crowned by the inevitable consequences of climate change and the men and women on the receiving end of every drop are at the center of how things may turn out.
Namibia is one of the most arid countries in the Sub-Sahara region. However, the call for advanced planning is just one extreme example of a problem that experts have long been warning about – water scarcity.
Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Abraham Nehemia says Namibia is not exempted from the Cape Town water crisis and it all starts with what those at the forefront are doing to prevent a crisis of this nature.
Highlighting the seriousness of the matter at home, Nehemia said Windhoek would have been in the same situation as Cape Town two years ago if the Government had not intervened to manage the risk. Windhoekers would have found themselves in queues to buy the last drops from the region’s dams.
“We brought in additional water from the north. We excavated huge boreholes in the city that were pumping water to the City of Windhoek. We brought in water from the Swakoppoort Dam to Von Bach Dam as we had used up all the water in that dam. Through these interventions we secured water for Windhoek but it could have gone bad, had we not intervened,” he said.
As to where the country currently stands in terms of water security, Nehemia avowed that should the country not receive a single drop for the next two years, all pipes will continue to flow, but not longer than that. According to UN-endorsed projections, global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030, thanks to a combination of climate change, human action and population growth.
Demand and Supply
The unprecedented growth of cities and their populace as well as a recorded drought exacerbated by climate change, are sparking one of the world’s most dramatic urban water crises.
“ In the case of Windhoek, it is the demand that is actually getting higher than the supply. It all boils down to us managing the demand. You have to look at what your plans are. How many people do you expect to have in Windhoek in the next 20 years? How many do you have at the moment and if you get an additional million people in the town, how will you meet the need?” said Nehemia.
He highlighted that should Windhoek not invest in water security on a long term stretch, the short term alternative would be getting water from the Okavango River, which would not be sustainable considering demands going up in Angola, the requirements for international flows, and the conservation of the delta.
“We need more money and at the moment, we are not doing enough investment in water security. We survived in 2016 but that was crisis management. We need to prevent the crisis provided that we plan ahead. When we say we need a plant by 2035, that money must be put aside gradually so that when we get there, we have enough. We need to replace the pipes which NamWater inherited from the colonial government.”
“When it comes to development, water is everything. We need it for every process. It all boils down to water.”
President Hage Geingob has established a Cabinet Committee on Water Security. The committee is comprised of a number of technical experts and is chaired by Nehemia. They meet once a week on Wednesday at State House.
Is desalination the answer ?
Water provision should be in the hands of government and Nehemia believes the costly avenue of desalination could be the long term ultimate savior. The first desalination plant to be built in Namibia was officially inaugurated in 2010, realising the vision of a clean water resource for the country straight from the Atlantic Ocean.
Nehemia said desalination is the way forward if the country is serious about meeting the water needs. Desalination is the removal of salt and contaminants from water. It involves a broad range of technologies that yield access to marginal sources of water such as seawater, brackish ground- and surface water, and wastewater.
Given the reduction in access to fresh water in recent decades and the uncertainty in availability affected by climate change, Nehemia said desalination is critical for ensuring the future of humanity.
Desalination represents a promise of near unlimited water supply and is an attractive potential solution to the age-old conundrum of seawater abundance and practical inaccessibility for potable use.
Cognizant of the financial implications, Nehemia said plans towards this eventuality should not be rushed considering the current economic climate.
“We need to put money aside every year that should accumulate over the years because this thing is costly. Just the cost of water that will be pumped from Swakopmund to Windhoek already will be expensive and something against the poor,” he said.
Nehemia called on Namibians to realise that climate change is here and preservation is the duty of every human being who wished to see a drop of water the following day. Else, this would possibly male Windhoek another major city, after Cape Town and São Paulo, to run dry.