Better water resources translate into opportunities

As correctly captured in the profile published by the Ministry of Environmental and Tourism: in a country as dry as Namibia, water captures everyone’s imagination.

“We are interested in water first and foremost simply because there is so little of it simply. Its availability shapes almost every aspect of land use, affecting where people can live where livestock can be watered and where a good deal of wildlife will occur. Water is also fascinating because its presence is so erratic,” the profile reads.

“In most places, it is suddenly delivered in buckets of rain only to disappear almost overnight. In some special places, water also arrives in regular floods, one such place is the massive cuvelai system of winding, interconnected channels, creating a dramatic landscape during times of floods as well as during those contrasting times when the land is parched and thirsty,” the North-Central Profile states.

Thus to tackle the lack of water resources and sanitation facilities present in the northern region, Namibian-German joint research project, Cuve Waters, established an integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in the Cuvelai Etosha Basin in Central-Northern Namibia.

The Cuvelai Etosha Basin in Central-Northern Namibia is particularly affected by dry weather with about 850 000 people almost half of the Namibian population living there. The basin is part of a trans boundary catchment shared by Angola and Namibia.

Dr Jenny Bischofberger of the Institute for Social Ecological Research (ISOE- Germany) told Prime Focus that she was inspired by the extreme weather patterns in Namibia whereby the heavy rainy season can cause floods while in events of the dry season drought ensues, especially in northern areas.

“In northern Namibia during the rainy season, high amounts of rainfall can cause floods. Then water landscapes like Oshana can occur. This is followed by the dry season, maybe even drought. The water of the Oshana evaporates quickly and the water is gone. This salt crust can develop and also the groundwater will get salty with the time. All these are extreme living conditions for the people of the region. Thus, this is an area where climate extremes can be studied and sustainable solutions developed,” she said.

With that in mind, the research project, Cuve Waters, developed and implemented measures to support the national process towards an Integrated Water Ressources Management (IWRM) with the aim to give people in the Cuvelai Etosha Basin reliable access to clean water over the long term, enhancing their livelihood, health and to create job’s opportunities. IWRM relies on solutions that use various sources, types and qualities of water for different purposes.

Cuve Waters thus implemented pilot plants for rain and floodwater harvesting, groundwater desalination as well as facilitities for sanitation and water reuse.

Dr Bischofberger points out that the project was then divided in three phases. In the first phase (2006-2009), concepts were developed; Potential technologies and sites were identified and weighed up in close collaboration with the local decision makers and stakeholders.

She further notes the Outapi region, a municipality in Central Northern Namibia, was chosen as their pilot area for the demonstration plant in order to implement the sanitation and water reuse infrastructure. The region faces challenges such as water scarcity and rapid population growth in informal settlements without access to sanitation facilities.

“In Outapi in 2008, the municipality counted barely 4 600 inhabitants, in 2015 it is already housing more than 10000 inhabitants. This rapid growth has tremendous impacts on urban water supply and effluents. Thus the implementation of the Sanitation and water reuse project,” Dr. Bischofberger says.

During 2009- 2013, the technology options were implemented with the Outapi Town Council (OTC) and the community. Communication structures and a path for good governance were developed along with them.

The other partners in the sanitation and reuse project include the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) and ISOE- Germany and the Technical University of Darmstadt (Institute IWAR) which lead the project. Bilfinger Water Technologies GmbH is the Industry partner for sanitation and water reuse.

Through the project, sanitation facilities were built in three settlements of Outapi which formerly did not have access to sewage and only limited water access. Up to 1500 inhabitants in pre-formal neighborhoods benefited. The concept included individual connection of houses, small and communal washhouses.

Furthermore, in the low-income communities, 30 makeshift ‘cluster units’ with one toilet, shower and hand washing basin each for four households were constructed as well as one washhouse with showers, toilets and hand washing that could be used by 200 or 300 persons per day.

The Cuve Waters fact sheet on IWRM states that in the initial phase of the project, several community workshops were held to determine the specific needs and opinions of the users and factor them into the concept. In doing so, acceptance and interest for the new infrastructure were raised amongst users.

“The opening of the sanitation facilities was accompanied by community health club (CHC). People met regularly for one year and were able to learn about and discuss various topics such as proper use of the facilities, household hygiene and health.”

The knowledge gained led to improved hygiene and health behavior and contributed to better living conditions, as stressed on the Cuve Water project sheet.