Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

04 November 2016
We must not do our usual asleep-at-the-wheel reaction on the issue of water.
While each day we see the long list of cuts to various budgets of SOEs, government ministries and different programs, we are increasingly concerned about the absence of a permanent and well-planned solution for water supply in Namibia (not only in Windhoek).
When decision-makers grow quiet on water issues because the public seems preoccupied reading headlines about the death of phosphates, the ICC, the growing mess in South Africa, NEEEF or the upcoming US presidential election, it is the time to start screaming about water repeatedly. We can never let this issue slip off the radar. 
To become complacent about our drought and water crisis can weaken an already embattled economy; we side line water solutions to our peril.
All too often, we only move on things when they are in the headlines or when something strikes our homes directly.  When it comes to major life-giving, irreplaceable necessities like potable water, we have to be active, alert, up-to-date and aware, all the time. 
Businesses are scaling back, reducing projected ventures and laying off workers because of the lack of water to produce their projects.  Beverage maker, Coca-Cola Namibia Bottling Company (CCNBC), has resorted to trucking in water from sources outside Windhoek, to augment its operational requirements, as the imposed water restrictions continue to impact on its business. 
Pool companies and businesses that sell supplies for swimming pools are hurting and have laid off workers ever since the beginning of the restrictions on private pools.  Individual home owners who employed gardeners have cut staff or reduced work hours as gardens die and restrictions prevent watering most plants.
Construction work will take a double hit with the fiscal cuts to projects on the one hand and the reduction of new construction efforts due to the water situation on the other. 
Last month, Joshua Amukugo, the City of Windhoek spokesperson said that drilling for water in the Windhoek Aquifer will start before the New Year.  This will supply enough water to meet about half of the city’s needs for about three years.  Three years is insufficient, but it is a short term solution that has to be followed. 
We see municipal pools re-opening under the justification that if the public pools are open, those with private pools will use those to swim instead of re-opening their own, which would collectively cause more water to be used than in a municipal pool.
This reasoning is sophomoric at best because people with private pools invested in them precisely because they don’t want to use public pools.
More importantly, re-opening public pools sends a wrong message that the water crisis is easing; which it most definitely is not. 
When one visits the local dams that support Windhoek’s water needs and sees their dangerously low levels, the deep level of this crisis becomes crystal clear.
The Areva desalination plant buy-out is apparently a dead duck.  Indeed experts in water management have done reports critical of the high price tag for the plant given its outdated technology and high maintenance/equipment replacement issues.
But, the water reality is what it is.  Areva is there.  If that plant were to stop functioning and close down right now, then what?  What’s Plan B?
Where is our team of hard-nosed experts and business negotiators (no politicos are needed here) battling it out with decision-makers at Areva’s headquarters and with the French government to get that price to a more reasonable level and find a way to get upgrades done at a shared cost in order to secure that source of water?
Whatever we (in theory) would pay for that plant is probably not going to be the best deal, particularly when our treasury is empty, but we backed ourselves into this corner by allowing that valuable water asset to be privately built and owned in the first place. 
It can only be assumed that our decision-makers have learned a lesson about that.  And yet, if we don’t have water, it doesn’t matter what other budget items need funding, everything stops.
Depending on rain in a semi-arid, low rainfall country like Namibia is folly.  After 26 years of independence, is it not time to build for the future based on the reality of weather in our country. 
We cannot plan on having good rainfall years and trick ourselves into thinking that water is not a problem.  It is; and it always will be for Namibia.  So, let’s cut the budget, but use that money to fund viable short and longer term water security plans and projects.


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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