Saturday, April 17, 2010

Banking water in Namibia

Servaas van den Bosch in IPS: In the driest capital city south of the Sahara, water engineers are "banking" ground water to meet future demand, but the enormous costs might sink the project before water can be harvested. Albertina Hameva lives in a "kambaschu", a corrugated iron dwelling in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Windhoek. There is no power, no water and no sanitation. Asked where she goes to the toilet, she points to the little veld meandering through the hundreds of shacks that perch uneasily on the slopes of a dry riverbed: "Here. All of us just go right here."

The riverbed is in the catchment area of what ought to be Windhoek’s largest fresh water reserve, the four million cubic metre Goreangab Dam, which is rendered useless by human waste that is flushed into it. This is why 70 percent of Windhoek’s water is pumped from dams as far as 160 kilometres away through old and worn out pipelines. Another 25 percent) of the city's daily water needs of between 58,000 and 70,000 cubic metres comes from a sewage reclamation plant that’s running at full capacity. A mere five percent of the drinking water is extracted from the aquifer below the city.

The aquifer should be the city’s lifeline in times of drought, but it’s almost empty because of over-extraction since the 1950s. "If the pipeline bursts there might be a water shortage for the entire city," says Windhoek’s chief water engineer Ferdinand Brinkman. That informal settlements such as Hameva’s grow by 10 percent a year only increases the pressure on the water supply.

With low rainfall and high evaporation rates, water is always in short supply and this is reflected in its price and availability. Poor communities get water from communal taps – paying roughly 14 U.S. cents for 25 litres – that are often far away and shared with hundreds of people. Industries are allocated a carefully-monitored quota, and pay a punitive tariff if they use more…

Red sand dune in Namibia, shot by Rui Ornelas, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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