OKAKARARA - A massive debt of N$21 million owed to NamWater, dating back to 1997, has left hundreds of households in the Okakarara Constituency without water after the utility company decided to disconnect water to scores of villages.
Because many of the affected villages do not have boreholes and rely on NamWater’s supply of water for both human and livestock consumption, the disconnections, intended to redeem the debt, have resulted in many cattle and goats dying from thirst.
One of the affected villages owes NamWater N$2 million, while others owe in excess of N$80 000.
Last week, the village of Okatjozongondi waited for more than two days to have its water supply reconnected during which time one villager lost two goats which died of thirst.
According to the Okakarara Constituency Councillor, Vetaruhe Kandorozu, a submission was made to Cabinet about four years ago to write off the debt. However, the submission has not been approved yet.
More suspensions are expected today as old debts and new debts are put on separate accounts. If a village has a new debt, the water supply is automatically suspended, because of the additional debt on the old account.
“People cannot afford to pay off these debts since some villages owe over N$80 000, which is distributed among the homesteads,” Kandorozu said.
He added that residents are expected to fork out more depending on the number of livestock they own, while others say their debts are caused in part by contractors working on government projects who have to share the taps with the affected communities.
Some villagers have reserve tanks at their homesteads, while others have to travel up to 10 kilometres to beg for water from neighbours and yet others travel up to 70 kilometres to draw water.
One of the affected villagers, Traditional Councillor of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority in Otjituuo, Erisa Verimuje, confirmed that cattle posts some two kilometres away from the town are continuously without water.
“We have to use petrol to travel to Okakarara [170 kilometres away] to pay or we ask our neighbours for water for our livestock,” he said, adding that they also have to pay their neighbours for the water.
He urged government to cancel all the old debts, since the debt continues to pile up with current water usage. “We have old debts, current debts and future debts,” complained Verimuje.
Furthermore, if one villager makes a payment to the NamWater office at Okakarara, the water supply is not reconnected immediately until a number of people pay. “[Paid up] villagers have to wait for days for others to pay, before they can have their water supply reconnected,” said Kandorozu.
He added that although some people have moved to other villages and some have died, their debts are re-distributed to the other villagers to pay, because none of the old debts are ever written off.
In addition, many of the villages experienced water leakages before individual water meters were introduced. In the past, the entire village shared a water meter and NamWater would bill the whole village, leaving residents to share the bill among themselves.
Moreover, there is no formula for sharing the water bill and none of the villagers ever received training or guidance on the ownership and distribution of the bill. This has led to disputes in the past since no proper calculations were ever made, while some villagers claim that NamWater relies on estimates to bill them.
The villages without boreholes are the ones owing NamWater. The village of Okavare now owes N$2 million. However, contractors also made use of the water in the village when they were re-gravelling a nearby road.
Since the contractors could not account for the amount of water they used, NamWater instead billed the villagers, according to the councillor.
If no underground water is found in the villages, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry does not dig additional boreholes. This forces the rural communities to rely entirely on the utility company for their water supply.
However, if villages have their own boreholes, but receive additional water supply from NamWater, the maintenance of the boreholes is left to the communities themselves, which adds to their ever-increasing costs.
The villagers claim that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry is only prepared to provide one source of water supply per village, according to Kandorozu.
The councillor appealed to the government to pay off the old debt on behalf of the poor communal farmers and to rehabilitate the common water points before handing them over to the communities. He also asked that the drilling of boreholes be intensified, since only about two private drilling companies are available in the country.