Water debt exacerbates water shortage

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Windhoek

Namibia may be forced to reduce the water supply to some parts of the country as it battles its worst drought in over 30 years, and the ballooning water debt owed to Namwater only makes matters worse.

Just weeks ago, it was reported that towns, villages, settlements, businesses and private individuals collectively owe Namwater over N$444 million in water debts.

The situation is said to have crippled the water utility’s plans to build more infrastructure and improve the water supply network. Central government has warned that the water shortages could lead to life-threatening situations.
“The utility says government agencies, especially prisons and schools, are the biggest users of water. They are also the biggest defaulters when it comes to paying Namwater,” the Namibian Sun reported in October.

Water is the cheapest commodity in Namibia. By the end of the 2014 financial year the average domestic tariff was said to be N$9 per cubic metre [1 000 litres], yet consumers continue defaulting on their water bills.

Namibia might even be left with no alternative but to import water from other SADC countries if the drought persists. The fact that water worth more than N$6 million is lost annually through wastage – according to official Namwater figures – does not help the situation either. Low rainfall in recent times has led to acute an drought condition, which has left half-a-million Namibians food insecure. According to official information, about 580 000 Namibians are adversely affected by the current drought and will rely on food aid from the government until at least March 2016.

The precarious situation is at such a crisis point that the economic hub of the country – Windhoek – last week declared a water crisis. As a result, City authorities warned that it may have to introduce water rationing measures if above average rainfall is not recorded soon, or if residents fail to use water sparingly.

The City imposed restrictions on the use of hoses and filling of swimming pools. So severe is the current drought, that one of the dams that supplies water to more than 350 000 Windhoek residents is completely dry, while other water resources have also been severely strained.

With the Omatako Dam already empty, should the dire situation persist, both the Swakoppoort and Von Bach Dams could be decommissioned next year.

Government remains hopeful

Acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Abraham Nehemia said the coastal region is second hardest hit by the precarious water situation.

“Although it [the water shortage] is mainly in the central areas, the coastal areas are second when it comes to water shortages, mainly because of the mining activities in that part of the country.

“But the rest of the country is normal, groundwater in some areas has gone down, but not to a crisis level,” said Nehemia, who is in charge of the ministry’s water directorate.

He warned though: “If we do not get substantive rainfall we will have a life-threatening situation. It only takes a three-hour downpour to fill the dams – provided it falls within the catchment area. Sometimes we do have rain, but it does not fall in the catchment area and we end up still having water shortages.”

What we know

The water utility serves roughly 28 000 customers and 209 large bulk connections on a wholesale basis. NamWater has 574 boreholes in production, 19 dams, 17 treatment plants and 377 reservoirs, which together provide the water supply for Namibia. The five largest bulk customers comprise 37 percent of total operating revenue. The City of Windhoek is the single largest customer, representing 24 percent of total operating revenue. Government agencies are said to constitute the bulk of the Namwater’s customers.

Raw water is derived from two sources, 69 percent from the surface water supply and the remaining 31 percent from groundwater. The Kavango, Kunene and the Orange rivers are the main sources of surface water in the country, in addition to water supplied by the dams across Namibia. The central areas are mainly supplied with surface water from the Von Bach, Omatako and the Swakoppoort dams.

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