NamWater Has a Case to Answer

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It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the process of managing excess water from the Hardap dam that resulted in massive floods at Mariental was somewhat bungled. NamWater’s position is that they did their best to contain an impending danger. Dr Vaino Shivute of NamWater this week provided the inner thinking and mindset of the water utility. “It’s because of the weather that Mariental is flooded. It should not be blamed on NamWater as it is outside our control. There was massive inflow during a short period of time exceeding the dam’s capacity. It should therefore be blamed on the weather, not us,” was his reaction to a torrent of accusations that the corporation had tripped over the wire. But even after its explanation, there has been no sea of change in public opinion. The public is still stuck to its guns that NamWater bears ultimate responsibility for the mess and not so much the weather. Well, NamWater probably did the best but their best was insufficient and not best because through commission and omission, they unleashed a menacing flood that devastated a small town and its people. Only the gullible would accept NamWater’s white wash. Its explanation on what transpired last Saturday and a few days before the disaster struck Mariental does not add up. It is short in detail, logic and common sense. Dr Shivute’s assertion that we must blame the weather is like saying we must blame God for giving us rain. No sensible person would do that in drought-prone Namibia. The fine weather across the country not only brought relief by way of beautiful scenery, lower temperatures but also water that Dr Shivute so much needs to make money for NamWater. And we dare suggest that, probably, NamWater’s preoccupation during the days preceding the disaster was to harvest as much water as possible so as to make money and if that was indeed so, then why blame the weather for making it possible for his corporation to make money and provide sufficient water to the people of this dry country? The truth about whether or not the floods could have been avoided or at least minimised lies somewhere between NamWater’s desire for profiteering and poor planning. In some ways, there was a clash of interest. In the effort to harvest more water, we think, NamWater failed to draw lessons from the past and allowed themselves to be carried away by business considerations. They overlooked important conditions that would have absorbed the effects of the shocking floods. A little bit of imagination and common sense would have done some trick and lessened the suffering and losses suffered by the community and business people. NamWater must have been aware of the significant risks involved in keeping the Hardap dam nearly full in the middle of the rainy season. As a water utility that not only deal in water but also sells water for survival, the corporation must have been up to date about weather conditions countrywide and the rain prospects. Specific and general material conditions for good rains and possible flooding were right there looking NamWater in the face. Apart from the good rains and constant inflows into the Hardap dam, the Fish river that acts as the escape route for water released from the Hardap dam was reportedly overgrown with reeds. All these conditions made flooding possible once massive water was let out all at once. And it appears it is not just NamWater that is to blame for the effects of the floods but also the municipality that allows people to build houses in low-lying areas that are prone to floods. Retired hydro-geologist Jurgen Kirchner suggests that putting a limit on the amount of water that the dam must have before the start of the rainy season would prevent floods such as we had at Mariental. This is a plausible proposition that NamWater must take seriously. The water utility must now count the pennies and find practical ways of dealing with excess water and how best to manage them. We cannot afford a disaster of this magnitude any longer. The country is hard pressed with completing development programmes with the little resources available. It is inconceivable that such funds would be diverted to disasters that could otherwise be avoided or minimised. NamWater should commission a study to provide for possible scenarios as a way out of the current situation where Mariental is flooded when the dam sluices are opened. It is also incumbent upon local authorities to create awareness among their communities about general preparedness for natural disasters.