Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein says the government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that Namibia has enough water and will never run dry.
Namibia is currently facing its worst drought in close to a century, and there are fears that the water supply situation will only get worse as there have been no concrete plans by the government since independence to ensure the security of supply.
For years now, the government has toyed with the idea of either buying the Orano-owned Erongo desalination plant at the coast or building its own, but those plans have remained on the drawing board while the water supply situation deteriorates.
To the surprise of many, the 2019/20 national budget presented by Schlettwein at the end of March did not make provision for building a desalination plant, a startling omission given the country is currently in the middle of a devastating drought.
This week, Schlettwein told the Windhoek Observer in an interview that part of the additional N$2.5 billion loans that the government has secured from the African Development Bank (AfDB) will address water security concerns.
He said the funds will be directed towards either acquiring the Erongo desalination plant or building a new one with the latter done via a public/private partnership arrangement.
“The N$2.5 billion is a loan facility that we have in principle agreed with the African Development Bank to supplement the development of necessary water infrastructure. The project will cover the whole country to make sure that we do not run dry. It includes desalination,” Schlettwein said.
“We are not yet there where we can say we will acquire a desalination plant or we will put it in a PPP arrangement. But we have realised that for the coast at least desalination is a must. We are running out of resources there and we must tap into the ocean.”
Orano has in the past offered its desalination plant to the government for US$200 million, a price the state rejected as being too high.
Media reports last year said the government of Botswana was also keen on buying the plant and planned to pump water to its capital city, Gaborone.
The Windhoek Observer reported in September last year that the government has opted to construct its desalination plant. The funds to be used were to come from proceeds of the N$10 billion financing requested from China.
But Schlettwein's longer-term water plans are unlikely to bring the much-needed relief to the existing water woes as the central region has started using boreholes as supply dams have run dry.
The Finance Minister told the Windhoek Observer at the time that the government will not be buying the Orano-owned desalination plant. He also stated that Namibia would not develop a desalination plant with the eastern neighbour, Botswana which has expressed interest in jointly developing a new plant with Namibia.
“The Botswana project is still in its infancy so we need to consider our own apart from the Botswana one, which will come later,” Schlettwein said at the time.
He said construction of a desalination plant was identified as one of the bulk infrastructure projects that will be funded under the N$10 billion facility from China over five years.
Two months later, NamWater called for bids from companies to submit proposals for financial, technical and legal transaction advisory consultations for the potential acquisition of the Orano Desalination Plant.