Water, water, everywhere…or is it? Water covers 70% of our planet, though fresh water required for drinking, bathing in, and irrigating our farm fields is only 3% of the world’s water. Our civilization depends on a plentiful supply of clean water, and yet in some parts of the world it iss becoming ever harder to obtain. Climate change and other factors have caused huge shortages of water across the developing world, and also in rich areas like the state of California, where a multi-year drought is still ongoing. As a result, around 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water and it is scarce for at least one month of the year for 2.7 billion more.
The Water Debt of Namibia
Namibia is currently battling its worst drought in over 30 years, and NamWater, the country’s water utility, is struggling to cope. Raw water in Namibia is 69% derived from the surface water supply and 31% from groundwater, with surface water supplied by the Kavango, Kunene and Orange rivers in addition to several dams. Unfortunately, a severe lack of rainfall has left rivers low and dams empty – and to add to the problem, NamWater is currently owed N$444 million (US$29.2 million) by its customers, who consistently default on their debt. This has left the utility unable to build more infrastructure and improve the water supply network, making the problem worse.
The utility says that government agencies and schools are the biggest users of water, and also, unfortunately, the biggest defaulters. If the drought persists, Namibia might have to start importing water from other countries, especially since more than N$6 million of water is lost through leaks and wastage. Better water main monitoring might help with that, and save the utility some badly-needed money, but it’s difficult to do anything when the debt is so high.
A Regional Issue
No-one is safe, especially in rural areas. The indigenous people of Namibia are the most threatened, because their food stocks are under siege from the relentless dry weather, but the problem is spilling over borders as well. Namibia will likely soon have to start taking water from the Okavango River in nearby Botswana, but there’s a problem: the Okavango Delta is a popular spot for game viewing on the backs of elephants. Without readily free-flowing water, tourists may stop coming, which will worsen an already brewing economic crisis caused by the water shortages.
The continuing water shortages could have knock-on effects on urban industry as well as in rural areas. The city of Windhoek, the economic hub of the country, has declared a water crisis, with city authorities warning that they might have to introduce rationing measures if a decent amount of rainfall doesn’t happen soon, or if residents continue to be careless with their water. So far, restrictions have been imposed on swimming pools and hoses, because one of the dams that supplies water to more than 350,000 Windhoek residents is completely dry.
Business as Unusual
Businesses are already feeling the pinch, and might have to scale down their operations, or relocate. Some are innovating instead: Namib Poultry Industries, for example, is in the process of investing N$5-$6 million in a reverse osmosis plant to recover 80% of the water used in their abattoir (which currently requires 240 million litres per year, if you include the water cost of raising the chickens as well). This process has been designed to reduce the amount of water required from NamWater by 50%. Similarly, the Meatco feedlot at Okapuka uses 450,000 litres of water per day on its cattle, and by reducing the number of animals in the feedlot, the company will be able to both save water at the source and reduce the water usage at the abattoir as well.
Other companies are also looking at using water more sparingly, like Namibia Dairy, which uses water for making fruit juices from concentrate as well as in the production process of milk products like the steam for UHT milk and the cleaning of equipment. And Namibia Breweries currently uses 6 million litres of water per year to produce 1.6 million litres of beer, meaning that any water restrictions will impact them heavily.
Namibia – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Main church in Windhoek, Namibia. – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
John Berwick may be a Technical Writer by trade, but he enjoys blogging and voicing his opinion on a wide variety of topics more than anything else in the world. He has written for many different sectors including health care, software development, security, marketing, and e-commerce industries.
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