The Water Crisis That Was

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By Surihe Gaomas

WINDHOEK

“Oh what a relief!” she exclaimed, checking the drip of a patient.

“It is so true when they say that water is life,” said the young nurse walking to the corner where she had stacked a number of old buckets.

These are the buckets she had used to collect water for patients when a water shortage hit the Katutura State Hospital early this month. Now she has discarded her buckets for the conventional twist-your-hand-to-open tap method and a gush of water flows evenly into the sink.

A few weeks ago, you would have seen a nurse running frenziedly with buckets of water from a backyard-based mobile tank to the second floor of the eight-storey building.

“It was a ranter and scanter affair that time. You did not know whether to attend to the patients as a nurse or run outside to collect water for them,” said registered nurse, Anna Hanse, with raised eyebrows.

Her ordeal is no different from all the other nurses, doctors, specialists, pharmacists and patients at the public health facility.

As a referral hospital, the Katutura State Hospital receives on average 1 889 patients a month, with 85 percent bed occupancy, as well as on average 1 453 outpatients every month.

Fortunately, with the water crisis long over, Hanse is now all smiles and relieved when taking care of her 41 patients in the Surgery Ward of the Katutura State Hospital. This is a completely different face of a nurse who, like many others, was unhappy about the water crisis that occurred amidst media focus and public outcry.

“It was a shame for a public health facility of this magnitude to be without water for close to two days. How can this be allowed at all?” were the cries from some members of the public. Albeit for now, getting water to treat her patients and for all medical-related purposes in her ward and for the entire 1973-built infrastructure has brought calm and relief.

On the other hand, Dr Richard Nchabi Kamwi, Minister of Health and Social Services, is a smiling man too. He is the man responsible for the country’s health, and the health of the country’s hospital.

“Look, the water is back,” is the short but powerful sentence of five words that could explain the joy he had, after the absence of this crucial natural resource was not flowing through the pipes of Katutura for two days running.

All this happened soon after Dr Kamwi, together with his counterpart, Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Joel Kaapanda, called in three engineering contractors to solve the water shortage problem on the hospital premises.

The water crisis hit the hospital following a pipe burst on Wednesday evening, July 11, 2007.

The burst was attributed to the fact that the underground water pipes are just as old as the hospital infrastructure itself – 30 years.

The only resource that came to the rescue of patients and medical staff was a water tank provided by the Windhoek Municipality, placed outside the Emergency Unit at the hospital premises.

“It was a terrible state of affairs,” said one long-serving nurse at the hospital.

“This water problem happens every two weeks due to pipe bursts. Toilets were blocked; it was smelly and there was no water to wash the floors. Things were really falling apart,” she said.

There were also concerns among staff members that the water from the tank that had been placed outside the hospital would only be enough for essential services and not for the general hygienic needs of the patients.

“As nurses, we had to wash patients, give them water to take their medicine and without water we just could not do anything at all. We were very frustrated with the whole situation, as collecting water is not even part of our job description,” said another medical staff member.

As much as the authorities have already solved the water shortage problem, the image of the Katutura hospital in the eyes of the public might have been compromised.

“The Katutura hospital stinks, to be honest, and the service sucks,” said one irate public member.

“How can the water problem be allowed to continue for close to two days?” questioned another.

However, the much-needed resource was restored at the Katutura State Hospital after almost one and half days without water.

With the urgent appeal of the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Kamwi, together with his counterpart, Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Joel Kaapanda, three private engineering contractors were called in to rectify the water problem at the hospital. It took them half a day to get the job done.

Among the contracted companies are Seasonaire Welding and Renovation, Brick and Concrete Industries (BCI) as well as Bicon Namibia.

It is hoped by many, however, that with the latest renovation of the water pipe system valued at between N$6- and N$7-million, such a crisis may never happen again.

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