The consequences of decades of drought in Namibia
Namibia is a small country with 2,6 million inhabitants, located in the southwest of Africa and considered one of the driest countries of the continent and the world. The country has suffered huge droughts during the last decade, causing the declaration of a national state of emergency in 3 different occasions since 2013, due to the huge water scarcity that this provokes. The 83% of rainwater evaporates, leaving just 1% available for groundwater recharge.
Since 1968, Namibia has relied on a water reuse project, consisting on the regeneration of residual water for human consumption. Piet di Pusani, technical manager of this project, explains that this is the best solution to supply drinkable water to Namibia’s population, especially its capital Windhoek, which is located 750km away from the main hydrological resources. During the years, this project has been expanded with the construction of new regenerating plants and “produced” water has been considered the most reliable source of water of the area. Currently, this source represents 26% of the total water supply, being the second source of the country after the 50% extracted from groundwater reserves located in the northern part of the country.
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However, these measures are not being enough and, in 2013, it was declared that Namibia was living the most severe drought in the last 30 years, declaring a national state of emergency. This caused more than 300.000 people being in a state of food insecurity and a 48% decrease in corn crops.
In 2016, this situation happened again, declaring that the country has been in an ongoing drought since 2013 and stating it was a national disaster. The main water reservoirs were empty and water availability could only be guaranteed until the end of 2016. Besides causing the death of livestock and the loss of crops, the drought also caused economic consequences. Corporations like Coca Cola, Meatco or different construction companies stopped their production in Namibia, leaving unemployed thousands of people. Water consumption restrictions also affected a lot of business, especially small ones, by having to reduce their consumption up to 30%.
A good rainy season was expected by the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, which would have helped relieve the water scarcity. But that didn’t happen and, after a 2018-2019 season receiving less than 50% of the rainfall expected, Namibia declared a national state of emergency again in May 2019.
Some of the government measures were to subsidize small farmers who minimize their livestock by selling it and implementing water tanks on areas without any other alternative water resource, beneficing 10.000 households. Still, more than 500.000 people had food insecurity. The state of emergency was extended until 5 March 2020, allowing that the Drought Relief Program allocates $7 million for food, $17 millions for water provision and $8 million for livestock support programs.
Last week, the African Development Bank approved a $122 million loan for the Namibia Water Sector Support Program, that will allow improvement in the access to drinkable water and for industrial and agricultural use. This program will have a 5 year duration and will also help to improve sanitation in rural areas, sustainable management and water usage. Besides, under the national development plans of Namibia, it is a priority to increase water availability with the goal of turning Namibia into a prosperous and industrialized nation by 2030.
“Direct potable water reuse in Windhoek: its history and its future” de Piet di Pusani, by Rafael Mujeriego: