Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

09 June 2016
Author  
In a last minute presidential press conference this week, the administration finally admitted there is a water and energy crisis. 
 
The information that Namibia is facing a severe water and energy emergency has been front page news at various times, in every single newspaper, online and in reports and research documents for more than a year.
 
The fact that State House has a press conference only now on the subject is cause for concern.
 
The media reported that the president stated: “we neglected to take action against all these problems…”
 
We give a nod to this kind of introspection by the administration, but it is alarming when our leader is reported to have said that:  “…Cabinet insisted that we must now address the issue of water scarcity…”
 
Is it truly the case that the administration did not realise before now, that the water situation in Namibia is a threat to the nation? 
 
We are concerned that solutions to the water crisis are being balanced with other unnecessary capital projects and plans as if there are options for water that allow immediate solutions to ‘stand in line’ behind other concerns.
 
It is no secret that Namibia is a low rainfall country.  We have a valuable Desert Research Centre at Gobabeb and numerous other scientific experts who have, for decades, made this point.
 
When we have steady rainfall in Namibia that is the exception, not the rule.  Until when will we devise our annual budgetary priorities to deal with this fact? 
 
The Windhoek Observer recently reported that negotiations over the sale of the Areva desalination plant haven’t started and government will not allow private investors to be involved in providing such a strategic commodity. 
 
We also reported that Rössing Uranium is being refused a licence to build its own desalination plant to contain costs that have threatened the viability of the business.  
 
We are approaching the dry tap stage, and yet people are hindering the construction of desalination plants based on long term profit aspirations, business deals or a lack of a sense of urgency to find an emergency water solution for the country.
 
We have a grossly insufficient N$224 million budget available over three years to save the entire country’s business growth and household security right now. 
 
By 2019 (the final budget year for the earmarked amount), if the current rainfall and water usage trajectory continues, water will have long since dried up in Namibia and our economy and people would have also collapsed.
 
Has the administration not taken seriously the cries from the regions where drought has been killing livestock left, right and center for nearly two years?  People are walking extra kilometres to find water just to cook and wash with.
 
It is absurd to say another word about building a new parliament, airport or any other mega-capital project costing billions before we put immediate funding into implementable short and medium term water and electricity projects. 
 
Nampower is there; Namwater is there – what else is their raison d’être? The water and electricity wolf is at the door and we have waited far too long to take this seriously.
 
These SOEs have advocated for water and power solutions over many years, most of which are costly.  Shall we listen to them and take a decision only after we run dry and live in the dark?
 
Did we not pay attention to Coca-Cola’s shut down of a part of their bottling facilities and the planned retrenchment of 60 workers due to a lack of water?
 
Shall we wait until all construction projects just stop for the same reason before we shift funds immediately to provide water for industry and households? 
 
Telling households and industries to reduce water usage by 30 percent or raising water tariffs by another 10 percent are not solutions; these actions only exacerbate the problem. 
 
The City of Windhoek, to their credit, have been screaming bloody murder for more than a year about the low levels of water in the dams that service the city and warning about drastic cut-offs.  And yet, apparently, Cabinet only insisted on solutions this week.
 
Moving forward, the A-Team along with appropriate scientific and skilled resource persons must put all else aside and make a water plan for the nation.  We cannot wait for God and rain, we must use the tools He has provided to help ourselves.
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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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