Northern water crisis

… ageing infrastructure hindering water flow

• BY MARX ITAMALO

IN a quest to curb water shortages in northern Namibia, water utility Namwater says it will embark on a massive and costly project to replace and refurbish its infrastructure in order to smoothly provide water to all areas of the North, some of which have been reported to have been experiencing severe water shortages.

This was said by Namwater chief executive officer Abraham Nehemia last week. Speaking to an Oshiwambo local radio station, Nehemia said Namwater has noted with concern pleas made by leaders and residents about the water crisis in the regions of Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Oshana and Omusati.

“It is against this background that we decided to improve our infrastructure and equipment so that water can be delivered to those that need it, especially in the northern regions,” he said.

In the interview, Nehemia explained that Namwater has bought three large pumps that had been already installed in the Calueque Dam in Southern Angola. The three mammoth pumps will replace the current two, which are responsible for pumping water from the dam through the underground canal to the Olushandja Dam at Epalela.

He added the new developments were done with the engagement of Angola that has bilateral agreements with the Namibian government regarding the use of the water from the Kunene River which forms the border between the two countries.

“The current two pumps are old and small, having been installed in the dam during colonial times in the 1970s. The three pumps are new and large, and will allow us to pump a large quantity of water from the dam throughout to all parts of the north,” he stressed.

Currently Namwater pumps six cubic metres of water per second from Calueque. However, with the operation of the new three pumps, nine cubic metres of water will be pumped each second.

Nehemia also noted that many areas in northern Namibia receive low-pressure water or no water at all because of the long distance the water has to travel from treatment plants. Namwater has treatment plants at Ruacana, Outapi, Ogongo, Oshakati and Okahao.

“The water pressure is low that’s why water can hardly reach places South of Omuthiya like Oshivelo and those that are East of Omuthiya. The new pumps will eliminate this problem,” he assured. He mentioned the new pumps were installed about three years ago, but could not be commissioned as contractors and engineers who installed could not travel into the country following the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he said, with the lifting of travel restrictions by many governments, the commissioning is anticipated to take place very soon.

NEW DAMS AND PIPES

Even if Namwater increases the outtake of the precious liquid from Calueque Dam, another problem lurks in the dark – ageing pipelines.

According to Nehemia, most of the pipes that especially transport water from the Oshakati treatment plant to areas in other parts of Oshana and Oshikoto are old and vulnerable and therefore will not be able to withstand the water pressure when the new pumps are commissioned.

“We have stretches where pipes always burst at the moment with the pressure we have. Imagine if we open the new pumps. So, we have to replace the old pipelines with the new ones,” he noted. This will especially be done on the Oshakati-Omuthiya pipeline as well as the Oshakati-Omapale pipeline.

Namwater has also appointed two contractors who will revamp the stretch of the water canal from Calueque to Oshakati.

“The canal is old and it needs to be repaired. The water that will be pumped into the canal if we commission the three pumps … so we have to work on it (canal) before we start with the new dams,” he noted. Work has already commenced on the canal. Funds for all the projects are already secured from international financial institutions such as the African Development Bank, Nehemia pointed out.

A large water treatment dam will also be constructed at Oshakati in the next few years, Nehemia said. This, he further noted, was necessitated by increasing population in the region.

Currently Namwater supplies about 20 million cubic metres of water per year to the about 800 000 residents of northern Namibia. However, he noted the required amount of water for such a population is 22 million cubic metres per annum. It therefore makes sense, if infrastructure can be improved and water distribution increased to meet the demand he emphasised.

The water which Namwater pumps from the Calueque Dam enters the dam from the Cunene River. The river is fed by the Gove Dam which lies about 75 km south of Huambo town. The dam has its source in the Angolan highlands in Huambo province. From Huambo the water travels about 950 km before reaching the Olushandja Dam at Epalela in Omusati.