The new drive to sustainability

By Musa Carter
October 2012
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Recently, an initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, in conjunction with the Namibia Water Corporation embarked on the Namibia Water Investment Conference to deliberate on issues concerning water development and to explore the investment opportunities that exist within the water sector.

One of the long-term goals of Vision 2030 is the availability of clean water, productive and healthy natural wetlands with rich biodiversity, which was one of the target efforts of the conference.

Namibia so far has been able to meet the growing demand for water to sustain development but it was noted that there is continuous need for improvement of water services to stay afloat with the dynamic demand patterns.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in consultation with NamWater, conducted a joint project to investigate, plan and design a programme of meeting national water requirements as a long-term strategy to prevent water shortages in the future.

“The findings of this investigation confirmed the intuitive knowledge that major components of the water infrastructure systems in Namibia have reached the end of their lifetime and need replacement or upgrading, because they are worn out and have become too expensive to maintain,” stated the Minister of Agriculture Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa in his opening remarks at the conference.

Mutorwa lamented on how it is not an easy task for his ministry, especially in terms of water and sanitation sector development, given Namibia’s vulnerable climatic conditions, to meet all its intended objectives.

“We are, however, proud of the achievements realised over the past 20 years. Dams have been built, wells have been developed, boreholes have been drilled and installed and especially in the more densely populated areas in the North,” explains Mutorwa.

Mutorwa also highlighted how most of the efforts of improving the water situation have been achieved mainly through Government funding and donor support.

There is major room for the private sector intervention in the area of services and trade, which will work hand in glove to create jobs as well as improve the manufacturing of equipment and spares.

Namibia being an arid country spends about 3% of its GDP on the operation expenditures of its water utilities. This is by far the highest percentage of all sub-Saharan countries.

Per capita, Namibia spends about US$80 (approximately N$640) annually on water supply and sanitation while other countries in the region spend between 1 and 10 US$. Providing access to utility water in Namibia costs US$4 000 (approximately N$32000) per capita on average.

In 2011, the United Nations (UN) evaluated that Namibia has improved its water access network significantly since independence in 1990.

However, a large part of the population cannot make use of these resources due to the prohibitively high consumption cost and the long distance between residences and water points in rural areas.

Mining in Namibia makes extensive use of water resources particularly along the Atlantic coast where there is little alternative to extracting groundwater from aquifers.

For this reason, the first large desalination plant in sub-Saharan Africa was inaugurated by Areva (a French-based power firm that supplies solutions for power generation with less carbon) in 2010. Its maximum capacity is 20 million m3 per year but it will initially supply 13 million m3.

The Water Conference covered vast strategic themes, which included investment in water supply and sanitation infrastructure development and technology; management of water supply and sanitation services; water for economic development; water resources management; public/private partnership and capacity building.

The total assured safe yield of Namibia’s water resources is estimated at 660 million m3/year, distributed as follows: Groundwater 300 million m3/year; ephemeral rivers 200 million m3/year; perennial rivers 150 million m3/year and unconventional sources such as treated wastewater 10 million m3/year.

The total water consumption in Namibia was estimated at 300 million m3 in 2000 of which the municipal sector uses 73 million m3 (24 percent). Re-use of water is practised in Namibia in many urban areas such as Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Tsumeb, Otjiwarongo, Okahandja, Mariental, Oranjemund and Windhoek.

In Windhoek, reclamation of water for potable re-use has been a practise since 1968. The plant could supply 8 000 m3/day, which was about 19% of the average daily water demand of the City in 1997.

A new reclamation plant with a capacity of 21 000 m3/day was completed in 2002. Current figures suggest 85.5% of all Namibians have access to portable water.

“The water sector is set to continue to face severe challenges in meeting the financial requirements for maintaining, extending and upgrading new and ageing water infrastructure in the face of growing water scarcity and completion for capital,” NPC director-general, Tom K Alweendo, stated.

With this in mind, it is lucid that the Government alone is not in a position to fund the entire required infrastructure and urgent need for the private sector funding is required as well as sustained and targeted investment, as the water and sanitation sector cannot achieve its production potential. PF