By Nghiinomenwa-vali Erastus
In the long run, Namibia should think of and implement water projects that will make the country less dependent on transboundary water, as Angola develops more infrastructures reducing water flow to Namibia.
This was stated by the minister of Agriculture and Water, Calle Schlettwein, in a response to the PDM parliamentarian, Raymond Reginald Diergaardt, regarding the security of the water supply and the situation the country is in.
He suggested that the country should embrace its underground water/aquifer and build desalination plants to reduce its dependency.
“We should develop our desalination capacity to be self-sufficient and not create more dependencies,” said Schlettwein.
Before last week’s showers, the Orange River had de facto dried up and the Kunene River had no water. It has dried up because of diversions and drought.
The reliability of transboundary water remains a serious risk.
The minister highlighted that the country can already see the direct impact of an insecure water supply from transboundary sources.
“We have to incorporate it into our plans and have a pretty aggressive approach with our neighbours so that we get our fair share out of transboundary rivers,” said Schlettwein.
He explained that dependencies are always a difficult thing for basic commodities, and he noted that tapping into the underground water and investing in desalination plants are probably expensive solutions but they have to be done given the country’s vulnerability.
“But as a dry country, I believe that is the only solution that has long-term sustainability,” he stated.
Schlettwein has also noted the need to tap into the underground water desalination plants will bring with it the need to create enough power/electricity which the country is currently struggling with at this point.
However, with alternative power and solar and wind and through the green hydrogen, the agriculture and water minister believes the country will have ample capacity and power and desalination capacity to satisfy its needs.
Namibia depends on transboundary water resources from the Kunene River and Cuvelai flood plain that the country shares with Angola and the Orange River on the south.
For both rivers the other countries have the upper hand in water flows and determine how much Namibia gets on many occasions, making the country vulnerable.
According to Schlettwein, the government is talking with Angola and has good relations with Angola.
“But Angola took a very aggressive stance in developing the infrastructure in the southern provinces, and they did so without our cooperation and despite some obligations to consult with us,” he updated.
The country has raised the issue with Angola and is busy pursuing it now to see to what extent they can mitigate the water flow risk emanating from the Angolan water infrastructure.
Schlettwein was also asked what plan there was if the situation at the Kunene River worsens. He said the country’s plan B is to integrate it with the Ohangwena Aquifer- “so that we are less reliant on Kunene and we can get away with less water out of the Kunene River”.
At the moment, the agreement between Namibia and Angola on the Kunene water flow gives Namibia a right to 80 million cubic metres a year at Ruacana.
However, Namibia is not, currently, getting that amount as agreed, increasing the water supply risk.
“We do not get that, and that is a problem,” stated Schletwein.
He said the same right (80 million cubic metres) allowed Namibia to develop infrastructure in the northern area.
That includes Olushandja and the farming that had a surplus.
The Kunene River and its waters flow across Ruacana Waterfall and go to the ocean. It does not flood into Etosha or the northern regions.
It is the Cuvelai system that brings the “efundja” floods about.
He said the country has a negotiation plan and has refurbished and restructured the institutional arrangements based on commissions. These are centralised into one commission so that they are not distracted and that everyone on the commission knows what happens in each basin.
There are currently five commissions.
There is the Kunene River Commission, the Cuvelai Commission, the Kavango Commission, the Zambezi Commission, and the Orange River Commission.
Schlettwein and his team indicated that the country has only relatively small areas where the water is available abundantly at good quality.
Often this water is available, but it is brackish, and the government supplements that with small desalination plants that bring the water quality up to drinkable standards.
Schlettwein said the country is busy developing a second project; a second desalination plant.
The country has a desalination plant running, which is the Orano Desalination Plant, the biggest desalination plant in Southern Africa.
The country is in the process of establishing a second one of the same size. The reason for that is with the uranium prices increasing, there is a commensurate sharp increase in demand for water.
Langer Heinrich, which was more useful, is getting online and they are starting to use water.
He said after that new demand will include areas that are in the desert like Uis, Daures, and constituencies that have difficulty getting water.
They will be linking into a pipeline going from the desalination plant to Uis.
One of the areas which have imminent water supply risk is the central region.
From a study point of view, the country is trying to get a master plan in place that will inform the country how efficient it would be to link the dams in the south to the central area.
The only alternative source that the country has now with the central area is either desalinated water or water from the southern dams.
However, the question of cost still lingers.
At the moment, the desalination plant programme is planned in three phases.
The first phase is the new desalination plant at the coast.
While the second phase is the additional plant that supplies Windhoek and the central area with desalinated water, and phase 3 is then the last addition that goes as far as Gaborone with a joint effort from the government of Botswana.
As for the rural water supply and groundwater, the ministry is operating countrywide and according to their assessment, the country is using groundwater in a manner that is not very efficient.
However, there are certain risks when it comes to borehole dependence as the current structure is that a borehole supplies a village or a school with water- if that borehole fails there is no water.
The ministry is now planning to change that into an integrated system where the ministry will have well-fields rather than single boreholes connected to a reservoir and from the reservoir, we distribute the water to several villages.
According to this plan, it will give the country much better security of supply because when a single borehole fails, you still have four that can maintain you as a reservoir that brings you over.
Schlettwein indicated that it is a huge effort to bring water to all localities in rural areas.
According to the ministry updates, till now, over 90 percent of our total water usage is groundwater, and only the rest is surface water.
Schlettwein highlighted that the country’s groundwater resource is very well-researched and mapped.
He said Namibia is ahead of almost everyone in Africa and has got maps and the support of data that tells the ministry at any place in the country what the groundwater quality is, the availability is, and the vulnerability is in each area.
The minister has said, however, all the long-term solutions would be very costly to be exercised, which also needed to be weighed against the appropriate time.
This is for the most appropriate ones to be built and other decentralisation possibilities to where water would be more economically available. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org