Rehoboth — The suspension of the water supply to Rehoboth by NamWater as a last ditch effort to recoup a huge water debt of about N$30 million, yesterday culminated in the closure of 11 schools at the town.
The schools decided to close doors to prevent almost 10 000 learners at the town from contracting any diseases from the unflushed toilets that now pose a health hazard at the government schools.
Corporate and Human Resources Manager in the Rehoboth Town Council, Willie Swartz, explained that the schools decided to close due to serious health hazards posed by the suspension of the water supply on Monday.
According to Swartz, the learners have no water to drink or to flush the toilets, while those living in the hostels can no longer bath.
"The situation clearly poses a health hazard for about 800 learners per school, plus the staff," he said.
At the same time, the Rehoboth Town Council has applied for an urgent court interdict against NamWater, due to what it alleges to be a breach of contract the two parties signed in 2011.
The two parties are expected to appear in the Windhoek High Court today. Yesterday, the council held an emergency meeting with Hardap Governor, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, to try to get government to intervene in the matter.
Agriculture, Water and Forestry Minister, John Mutorwa, and the Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, Jerry Ekandjo, were expected to attend the meeting, according to Swartz. "Government is 100 percent owner of NamWater and we want them to intervene on our behalf," Swartz emphasised.
New Era can confirm that NamWater had cut off all water supply to the town, except for institutions which provide essential services such as the hospital, police and prison at the town. Since Monday night, residents have been queuing up at a natural water source at the town.
"We cannot rely on underground water, because we do not know how sustainable it is," stressed municipal spokesman Jeffrey Kasupi.
About 20 percent to 30 percent of water supplied by NamWater was being lost due to aging and worn-out underground water pipes that need to be replaced, but despite this the town council was still being billed for the wastage.
"We decided to take NamWater to court, because they are still part of the agreement we signed in 2011," said Swartz. He did not deny that the council owes the water utility money. However, he emphasized that Namwater failed to honour its part of the agreement.
Swartz said that the town had a history of running into debt with NamWater.
"The new council inherited a debt of N$15 million by 2010. By the time council and NamWater agreed to an intervention, the debt stood at N$17 million in 2011," he said.
The intervention agreement between the council and NamWater was to jointly administer the process of water distribution, according to Swartz.
"We gave them [NamWater] access to our offices with their own cashier to collect the debt for over a year," he said, adding that the cashier was withdrawn about a month ago.
"The paradox is that the debt still escalated, with N$10 million in one year, while NamWater was jointly responsible for administering the water utility services," he stressed. He added that the truth has to be unravelled in court, but declined to go into further detail.
Swartz hopes that the court will determine that the council has a case in order to have the water reconnected today. "If the court sees that we have no case, then I do not know when the water will be reopened," he said.
About 45 000 people reside in the town and 60 percent of them are unemployed and cannot pay municipal bills, according to Swartz.
Principal of the Rehoboth High School, David Titus, described the situation as difficult and unpleasant.
"The learners are still using the toilets, but they are not flushing," he said, adding that the learners may have to use the bush to relieve themselves. He also confirmed that breakfast and lunch were still catered for in the hostels, but he could not say what would happen with dinner and the following days.
The government's feeding programme at Vooruitsig Junior Secondary School also stopped for the day due to the water closure. In addition, local businesses depending on water such as the abattoir, dry cleaners and brick producers have temporarily closed down. "Even paid-up customers have been affected," emphasised Kasupi.