NamWater takes measures to avert looming water supply crisis

The just ended rainy season (if we can even call it that) has been very poor overall.

As a result, the nation is faced with a drought which will have a severe impact on the socio-economic status of this country.

The Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater)’s chief executive officer (CEO) describes the situation as grave.

The poor rainy season has severely impacted on the central areas to an extent that the three main dams that supply Windhoek, Okahandja, Karibib, Okakarara and surrounding areas, have not received any down-pour at all. This is the worst ever in Namibia’s history.

This dire situation has prompted the relevant stakeholders to do whatever necessary to avert effects because if left unattended, it could potentially derail the economic and developmental pathway of the country.

Dr Vaino Shivute says the Annual Central Areas Water Supply Workshop, which was recently held in collaboration with key stakeholders in the water industry, formed part of a strategic intent. Its main objective was to take a hard look at the water supply thereby enabling stakeholders to plan for the next 24 months according to laid-out plans as well as the required investments.

The outcome of the proceedings all point to one direction: The situation requires all stakeholders to find solutions at whatever cost. It is noteworthy that handy alternative solutions are already being pursued, which is certainly a relief... at least for now.

The question then lies in unpredictable climatic changes. What does the future hold in this regard? Is it perhaps time to call upon divine intervention as His Excellency President Hifikepunye Pohamba recently suggested?

In this interview, Dr Shivute takes us through some of the bold actions he and his team have had to engage in to arrest the situation. In addition, he touches on some social issues Namibia currently undergoing.

He shares the vision he wishes Namibia would live up to.

PF: Who is Dr Vaino Shivute?

VS: Vaino Shivute is a Namibian citizen, married with kids and who lives in Windhoek.

I was born in Oshigambo Village, Oshikoto Region. After my school years, I went abroad for 16 years and only returned home after Independence.

I then started working for the Government in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry from where I moved to the Namibia Water Corporation where I have remained since.

PF: How long have you been at Namwater?

VS: I have been with NamWater since December 2002.

PF: How have you managed to keep Namwater out of controversies [unlike other parastatals] and while making it one of the most stable parastatals in the country?

VS: When you manage an institution such as NamWater, the most important thing to acknowledge is that you work with people who think, who have feelings and who just need recognition for what they do.

What we have done at NamWater is establish a good working relationship with the Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu) through whom we have a recognition agreement. They often have workshops that they conduct with elected shop stewards.

We have arranged with shop stewards to set up quarterly forums where we meet with the union to discuss issues of mutual interest. This is meant to provide them with information from management and in return, they tell us about their concerns.

The purpose of this is to come up with timely ideas on how to address issues that may be brought to the table before they become bigger.

As the management team, we share with the union certain important information for them to understand what happens within the company so that they do not stay in the dark.

As such, should we tell them that we have problems, they would believe us. But that does not mean that we never have differences. Without the differences, we would not be doing our work and they would also not be representing their members as they should.

While the management manages the company, the union representatives are there to represent the interests of their members. Sometimes it is not easy to come to terms with everything; we often agree to disagree. Fortunately, through such a working relationship, we have so far managed to avoid industrial actions and related issues.

So it would suffice to say that our success in that regard lies in the relationship we have with the representatives who speak for the majority of members.

PF: Some people say you are the ‘cleanest’ CEO in this country. What do you say about that?

VS: It is probably because I was brought up in a Christian family where I was taught certain values and principles to adhere to and stick to.

Maybe I am old-fashioned for I believe that when you have a job like mine, you must live up to the public expectations as far as contractual responsibilities are concerned. The responsibilities you have are not just yours as an individual to sit in an office and do what you are supposed to do. Instead, you have a broader responsibility to help steer this country into the right direction.

Yes, there are a lot of people who sit on their responsibilities to ensure that this country moves in the right direction. But then again, it is up to each and every one of those individuals to ensure that they steer their companies in the right direction, no matter what units they head.

I therefore believe that one must act ethically; that one must have integrity so that if and whenever you say something, people have no choice but to believe and take you seriously.

I also believe that one must be able to listen to their voice of reason; the one that helps them take tough, conscious decisions.

In life and especially in the work environment, there are many influences that will always interfere with that voice of reason and cloud one’s thought and decision-making process. As for me, I try to do what is right for the company as well as for the country.

PF: Since you have mentioned ethics, which blend in well with good leadership, what is your take on how most of our parastatals are run as far ethics go?

VS: It is not my place to express my opinion on what happens in other parastatals because I do not know what happens within them. It would be presumptuous of me to pass any judgement in that regard.

What I could say, however, is that people who are in positions of leadership should really focus on the good of a country at large.

I remember that during the liberation struggle, people were fired up to unshackle Namibia. People were out there working, not for a salary but to free Namibia. People were generally doing what they thought was right.

What I have noticed is that with Independence came different areas of responsibilities. And although the issue of remuneration may influence a lot of people’s decisions when it comes to owning up to responsibilities, we understand that there are certain daily demands that we cannot ignore.

One may be influenced with what their friends do and then start comparing themselves with them but such an individual should never lose sight of their final destiny; where they wish to be in future. Every individual should note, though, that at the end of the day, we all want to develop this country into an industrialised state and strive to attain the Vision 2030 goals.

I once had a discussion with a gentleman in Japan a few years ago about that country in the 1950s. According to him, Japan was like any other third-world country at that time but somehow, its leadership managed to inculcate the spirit of upliftment in every citizen.

Of course not everybody embraced that spirit but the majority of the people worked to uplift Japan from the position where it was to a higher level.

This gentleman, who was in fact our host, went on to describe how they went out to Europe and the United States to gather information and take it home. From there, they started developing radios, cars and other items based on the information that they obtained from other developed countries.

They all did that for the good of the country. In Namibia, unfortunately, we focus more on individual growth rather than the country at large. I am not saying that everybody does that but there is certainly an element of that.

PF: We are meeting with you just at the time when you are coming out of a workshop on water issues in Namibia and we are being told that there were no inflows into the local dams this year. Could you update us on the current status of the water situation? Is there a reason the nation should panic?

VS: If one looks at the rainy season that is just ending, our rainy season starts somewhere between September and October every year and should end somewhere sometime between late March and mid-April.

The beginning of last month, which should have seen a good downpour, did not turn out as expected at all. The central areas including Windhoek, Okahandja, Karibib and the surrounding areas have been hard hit as they are supplied from three dams.

Unfortunately, these dams did not have an inflow this rainy season, not at all, the water that we have in these dams are from the last rainy season, which puts the country in a precarious situation. We were therefore meeting with all the customers and stakeholders to look at the situation and see how to manage the water supply for our various customers within the next 24 months.

Normally, this should be an annual general meeting at the end of every rainy season where we put our heads together to plan for the next two rainy seasons in advance because water infrastructure is expensive to develop and cannot be developed overnight.

Should we discover a shortfall that might deter us from reaching the end of the second rainy season, then we sound the alarm early enough. Note that for water to flow in a year’s time, planning must start on time.

This meeting is mainly attended by our line ministry - the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry - NamWater, the municipality representatives of Windhoek, Okahandja, Karibib, Okakarara and surrounding areas.

At the meeting, we assess the situation the areas and the country at large faces at that moment in time and see how to manage it.

And that was our focus in this meeting; where and how to get water for the next 24 months.

PF: What is the worst that could happen if this condition prevailed to the next rainy season?

SV: In our recent meeting, we agreed to augment our water sources that are the three dams; the Omatako dam, the Von Bach Dam and the Swakopport Dam because water currently in them is not enough to carry us over the next two rainy seasons.

Our Plan B is to supplement them with borehole water from Kombat boreholes. Kombat is a place near Groontfontein that used to be a mine site from where residents could get water.

When the mine closed, so did the water supply stop. We are now busy drilling boreholes there to equip them so they can be operational as from August this year.

Those boreholes will put water in a canal that will be conveyed to Windhoek. We will also get water from Berg Aukas near Groontfontein, put it in a canal and bring it to Windhoek to make sure that we have enough water for the next 24 months.

Additionally, we agreed that demand management measures must be implemented. Meaning that towns like Okahandja, Windhoek, Karibib and Okakarara must also implement them. The town authorities must encourage their inhabitants to save water so that the more it is we saved, the longer it shall take us as a country.

PF: How much will this project cost the parties involved? Will it not, at completion, push the price of water beyond the reach of public consumers?

VS: We have a canal that runs from Groontfontein to Omatako Dam. It is one of the dams that supply Windhoek; it’s ready. We also have a pipeline from Omatako Dam to Von Bach Dam in Okahandja. From Okahandja, water is purified and pumped into Windhoek.

If I may speak under correction, the Kombat project is a N$4m to N$5m investment.

The Berg Aukas project, however, needs an N$11m budget. Notably, there are also other places we plan to look at to enable us reach out to the rest of the country as far as water supply is concerned.

From the preliminary information I obtained during the meeting’s presentations, more will need to be invested in other parts of the country where we also supply water. At the moment, I do not have the exact figures.

PF: Is this situation we find ourselves in unique or has it happened in this country’s history?

VS: It has actually happened before. We did undergo serious drought in 1981/82, 1992/93 and 1994/95.

But given the figures that were given in the meeting, this particular season has had the lowest inflow into our dams ever. Previously, the inflow was higher but considering the figures that were recently shared, there has been a very insignificant inflow.

PF: From a strategic point of view vis-a-vis investment, how does the Government plan to sort the water supply deficit, if you like, especially in the critical economic hubs of the country?

VS: Allow me to mention that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry is responsible for setting up water policy guidelines for the entire country. It also plays the role of a regulator in the water industry like the electricity industry.

The ministry has a responsibility to make sure that water is supplied to rural areas. The rural water supply component rests with the ministry.

NamWater, as a bulk water supply, is entrusted to supply water to towns and commercial enterprises. As such, we supply water to most of the local mines, our border posts, as well as Government institutions such as schools, clinics, etc, that are situated in remote areas.
And then the local authorities have responsibilities to supply water within areas of their jurisdictions. For example, we supply the City of Windhoek with water, which it then sells to its customers.

But of course, when there are emergencies, Government avails special funding for related projects.

If you went back into history, you would find that the Government has, on each occasion, been responsible for providing emergency funding in drought and other emergency situations.

PF: What happened to desalination as an alternative plan given the abundance of our sea water?

VS: A look at the water situation at the coast would give you an idea of what the central coastal area - Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Hentis Bay and the surrounding mines and Arandis - go through.

Those customers are currently supplied with underground water mainly from the Kuiseb Aquifer in the Kuiseb River and the Omdel Aquifer in the Omaruru area near Hentis Bay.

But these aquifers have reached their limits in terms of sustainable water supply. As a result, the line ministry and Namwater are currently looking into desalinisation projects for the coast.

There was an advertised tender sometime last year [which is currently under evaluation] to construct a desalinisation plant to supply water to the central coastal areas and we hope all goes well.

PF: What is your take on the concerns regarding the cleanliness and/or the quality of water in Namibia?

VS: In some countries within the region or in most developed nations, you will find signs in lodges, hotels or public spots warning people that the water is not suitable for consumption. Fortunately, Namibia has not reached that stage yet.

One of the things we pride ourselves for as a bulk water supplier is that whenever we supply water across the country, we can confidently tell the public to rest assured that it is safe for consumption.

Of course this comes at a cost. Cleaning water is not cheap. And this is what a lot of people do not understand; most people are content with the fact that they can just open any standing tap and get water. They do not understand the mechanism behind how that tap gets to keep flowing for 24 hours a day.

More specifically, there are two aspects to quality; one is the chemical content of water and the other one is the bacteriological content, which are managed according to the standards the Government has put in place.

Water is classified into three groups: there is Class A water, which is excellent for human consumption. Then there’s Class B water, which has a low health risk with regards to chemical content and Class C water, which is not at all fit for human consumption.

The water that we supply in Namibia to our customers is either Class A or Class B. Class B is mainly from boreholes that use underground aquifers. Such water quality is actually influenced by the soil content.

So you find that in some areas, the iron and fluoride contents are high.

We, however, try to manage that because there are guidelines for fluoride-containing water. In such cases, the fluoride should not be more than a certain amount and the same goes for the iron content. Note that although you may find that the iron content is high in some areas, the water is still safe for human consumption.

And that is what brings our water into the B category where the chemical contents have parameters.

For the bacteriological content, the water is purified in such a way that there are no bacteria, which makes it safe for human consumption. Of course those bacteria might also creep in while that water is pumped in through the system to the storage facilities. In such cases, we ensure an adequate disinfection process within the system to keep the bacteria at bay.

Water is tested on a regular basis to make sure that we comply with the set standards. Should we detect any traces of bacteria, steps are taken immediately to correct that. That is why we say that our water is safe for consumption.

PF: That sounds like a very thorough and complicated process that requires specialised skills. But given the skills constraints in this country, where do you get the human resources to ensure that Namibians drink safe water?

VS: Traditionally, we would dig a well from which we would draw water for general consumption. Make no mistake; there are people who still imagine that supplying water in this day and age amounts to that.

But for us to supply water in the volumes that we do, we must make sure that it is extracted, cleaned and converted to what can be consumed.

We need engineers, scientists and other skilled personnel. That is one of the challenges we struggle with at the present moment.

There are certain positions for engineers that we have advertised in the local media two or three times but none of them have had takers. We often end up with Grade 12 leavers applying for such positions. Of course we wouldn’t take them in. I mean, we must live in a Land of the Brave indeed to find Grade 12 graduates picking up the courage to apply for such positions.

We participate in the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) forums and support the idea that we must be allowed to import skills that we do not have.

Government needs to listen to us. But then again, we also have workers’ unions that argue that if we import skills, the personnel will take up the jobs of our people, yet that is not necessarily the case. Such critics should first acknowledge our effort in trying to empower our people by availing positions, advertising them in the local media and yet there are no locals qualified enough to take them up.

Let’s import the skills we don’t have. We know that there are only a few quality engineers and technicians in Namibia who everyone chases after. Such experts do not need to apply for positions because companies just approach them and offer the jobs.

NamWater, NamPower, Telecom Namibia and some of the bigger cities like the City of Windhoek all need engineers and many go to the mines.

We have been competing with the mines because they have been taking a lot of our people. Once our employees get offers from the mines, they leave without even considering the counter-offer you are offering them at that point in time.

But we also have a training programme; we give bursaries; we train engineers with degrees and technicians with diplomas who only come in as such. We also train scientists who must deal with our water quality like hydrologists and geologists. But we lack skilled accountants.

So these are our contributions to the nation but we still need the skills we lack. If we have to build this country and achieve Vision 2030 goals, proper education and skills development are definitely areas that must be given due attention.

PF: Given your experience, what do young Namibians lack given the huge sums of investments in education?

VS: There is a need to do a bit more work in our education system. When I worked for the MAWF, I was part of a team that was in the forefront of setting up the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Namibia (Unam).

Although we were a small team, we worked very hard to put everything in place and then decided to take in students when the time came. The curriculum had been developed, the physical facilities were in place and the funds had been availed.

At the time of getting the first intake, we sent out advertisements for recruitment and followed other required procedures. Our intention was to take in 30 Grade 12 graduates. Sadly, we only got four students who had qualified to enter that faculty.

That is when I realised that maybe our primary and secondary schools, especially at the secondary level, have very low standards. The local secondary schools do not produce candidates that are actually good enough to enter the tertiary level.

I do not know what other problem there is but I have heard a number of people mentioning, especially at tertiary institutions, that there is an indication that many of our Grade 12 graduates are not fully academically equipped to enter university or the technikons.

What we had to do in that particular year was set up a bridging course to prepare those students for tertiary education, with basic modules such as English, mathematics and sciences.

PF: Having been at the helm of Namwater for more than a decade, where to from here? Any political ambitions?

VS: You are not the first one to ask me that question. I am on contract and my time at NamWater is coming to an end.

I am still considering a few options at the moment, which are not yet for public consumption.

PF: And politics?

VS: All I can say is that I am a member of the ruling party and I am active within the structures but I will keep it at that.

PF: So what keeps you motivated, given the weighty issues that come with your job, including ensuring that the country gets a 24-hour water supply come rain or sunshine?

VS: We (and when I say, ‘we’, I mean, those who were in exile during the liberation struggle of Namibia) have been to different parts of the world and seen how those countries operate. So I always say that should things go wrong one day in Namibia, we would have no one to blame but ourselves because we have seen it all and still failed to do right.

As such, what really keeps me motivated is the vision I would want to see Namibia embrace; doing perfectly well in Africa in terms of economic growth. I wish to see the people of Namibia benefit from the independence we attained in 1990.

I would like Namibia to come out as a model country in Africa that other nations would aspire to be like. To do that, we all need to work very hard by executing our responsibilities to the best of our ability. We all need to pull our weight for a common goal. Maybe there are people who have the power and authority to direct the country in that direction but for me, I shall do what I must to the best of my ability for the good of the country, step by step. That is what really keeps me going.

PF: We have just celebrated 23 years of independence. Any word for the Namibian nation?

VS: What I can say is that if you look at where we have come from as a nation and a generation, our view of the world is very much influenced by our past.

We have come from an era where we were discriminated against and the oppression gave one the courage to fight for what was right for all.

Since the independence was attained, the motivation to move things forward as one is no longer as high as it used to be. Before independence, people were fired up because they felt oppressed by the apartheid system and needed to stop it.

Whenever politicians called for public meetings, people would come out en-masse but today, even at national days, you will realise that the attendance is very low.

It is important to remember that for us to remain on track, people should not think about what is good for themselves as individuals but focus on what is good for the country and where we all want to go.

Government has set out Vision 2030 goals, so each one of us must ask ourselves what we can do to contribute towards that vision. If we do not have anything to aspire to, we would end up moving in circles.

PF: Thank you so much for your time, Sir. We look forward to talking to you next time.

VS: You’re welcome. PF