…but there’s hope in the pipeline
Namwater-which says it is heavily underfunded-this week warned that Namibia was edging slowly but surely towards a water crisis of epic proportions if long term solutions are not found.
With Namibia being the most arid country south of the Sahara desert, the water entity says the three-dam system that supplies the central areas with water is not adequate anymore.
The two long term solutions that can be pursued-if funds permit- are desalination and constructing a pipeline that carries water from the Okavango River to the central areas.
Both options would require investment that could run into billions.
Roughly 91 percent of the fresh water resources available in the country are utilised to satisfy demand from urban areas and agricultural purposes.
Namwater CEO Dr. Vaino Shivute this week said a study for the pipeline was conducted while the one for the desalination plant still needs to be commissioned.
Speaking as a panellist at Lithon’s 2nd Annual Conference on Infrastructure, Urban Development and Finance, Shivute stressed the need for more investment in the water sector because “the infrastructure we inherited is getting old”.
“Namwater is underfunded when you compare what other SOEs are getting. It is key to share and avail resources so that we can ensure water security. We need long term solutions to ensure water security because of the precarious situation we find ourselves in,” he said.
It is not only the central areas that could face a water shortage, red flags have also been raised for the coastal areas. Shivute said the groundwater sources at the coast have dwindled.
“The only solution for the coastal areas is desalination,” he said.
In the northern parts of the country, Shivute said boreholes and pipelines continue to be an effective way to ensure that people in rural areas have access to potable water. Shivute also reacted to cries that water is unaffordable in Namibia.
“The tariffs charge are said to be problematic because people feel water is not affordable, the only way we can make it affordable is if government avails sufficient funds,” he quipped.
Shivute said a boost in funding for infrastructure will overcome the historical problems Namibia has with water.
Khomas Region, with the size of industry and hosting the lion’s share of the economy, has mainly depended on the rain to keep the taps running. The main challenge over the past decade was that the rain that does fall is erratic and at times not sufficient to satisfy the catchment areas. All identified measures cost money and with treasury’s limited funding tranche, government may be forced to take its begging-bowl to international donors.
Experts have advised government to pursue private partners to by entering into public-private partnerships in a bid to fix the country’s ageing infrastructure and put up new ones.
To pacify the naysayers and armchair academics, it is understood that a massive amount of scientific, engineering, environmental and economic issues will need to be considered and a full feasibility study will be required to make the two options a reality.
The Windhoek situation
A 2017 Institute for Public Policy and Research(IPPR) report titled Managing Windhoek’s Water Crisis indicated that Windhoek’s water demand has grown from around 21 million cubic meters per annum (Mm3/a) to around 27 Mm3/a over a ten-year period from 2005-2014.
Particularly the growth of water connections to businesses in the city area has markedly increased fresh water consumption. CoW records show that business water connections grew from 4,832 in 2012 to 8,495 in 2015 and that this sector’s water consumption more than doubled over the same period.
IPPR at the time indicated that: “Crucially, the water crisis experienced by Windhoek not only raises questions about the nation’s water resources and management thereof; but points towards much wider and serious considerations for Namibia’s development trajectory.”
With the city’s overall water supply situation still precarious, IPPR indicated that genuine and concerted action, including the provision of significant financial resources by central government, will be essential in averting a major water crisis in the not-so-distant future.
“It has to be observed that Namibia needs to enter into a critical public dialogue with regards to the development and administration of urban areas given critical water supply constraints and the exorbitant cost of new infrastructure. Serious questions need to be raised about the long-term viability of Windhoek’s continued dominance in Namibia’s economic growth,” the report noted.