EGYPT's population of more than 60 million people depends on water from the Nile. Everything from agriculture, industry to domestic consumption are closely tied to the supply of water from this river. The Aswan High Dam provides hydro-electric power to the country. The Nile is also a vital waterway for the transport of people and goods.
I lived in Cairo for a good five years as a student there in the 1980s. And I never experienced the kind of national shame and embarrassment, which faces our country's failure to supply water to all its citizens. The recent water crisis of the past weeks or so in Rehoboth have clearly shown that this country is drowning deep in a water crisis. The Rehoboth crisis, where schools and other establishments came to a halt for days, represents just a microcosm of a much major national crisis that has dogged this country since the dawn of independence.
Unlike many other countries with serious shortage of water sources in addition to their large and increasing populations with the concomitant demand for industrial and agricultural goods, Namibia doesn't face those daunting challenges. The country has a population size of about 2.1 million which is lower than the population of Zamalek, a suburb in Cairo.
Yes, Namibia is a dry country, but so is Egypt, yet luckily we have many perennial rivers, some forming the boundaries between us and our neighbours. Name them: the Orange River in the south, the Kunene in the north, the Zambezi in the north-east, the Kwando River that runs through Caprivi and the Kavango running through the Kavango Region and into Botswana to form the spectacular Okavango Swamps.
In addition, we also have a number of seasonal rivers running throughout the country like the Fish River, the Swakop, Omatako and a host of others as well as a number of dams that have been constructed over the years, while there are still plans to construct more. One such dam that made headlines news a few years ago was the Hardap Dam which left the southern town of Mariental underwater, causing extensive damage to property in the town.
And yet Rehoboth, which is a few miles away from the Hardap Dam, still goes dry. Not to mention the sprawling Fish River that passes through Gibeon, yet the town has been in the news in recent weeks and months about water that has been cut-off. Katima also had to go through the same water crisis and yet it is situated right on the bank of the ever-flooding Zambezi River.
Thus the availability of water in Namibia is not the problem. There is no shortage of water in this country. What is the problem then? Writing in the Informanté newspaper last week, Bob Kandetu rightly concludes that "what we have is a national water management challenge". I can't agree more. But I think there are two other fundamental problems too. One is basically developmental and technical and the other is, for a lack of a more appropriate term, ideological. The rest is basically conjectural.
I submit here that on the technical and developmental side we have hopelessly failed to take advantage of the abundant water resources that are available in the country. We have not tapped enough from those sources so that each and every household has access to safe drinking water at an affordable price or even free water in some cases. In simple terms we have not invested enough in the technology to link people to the rivers as they have done in Egypt. We failed, for example, to harvest water from the oshanas that cause annual floods in the north, drilled more boreholes and excavated and rehabilitated more earth dams in rural areas.
I don't have the exact statistics as to what percentage of the population has actually been connected to water infrastructure since independence. But does this matter? Because towns like Rehoboth, Gibeon and Katima Mulilo are all connected to water infrastructure yet they go dry resulting in the closure of schools and businesses. The number of people and institutions whose water has been disconnected because of arrears is partly a reflection of the un-affordability of water.
The problem must thus be broadly located within the ideological world-view of those who are running this country - the Swapo ruling elite, NamWater and the municipalities. They are all cocooned in the neo-liberal shibboleths of 'full cost recovery' or 'user pays' mentality like the private sector. The creation of NamWater was, in my view, a fundamental error. And so is government's neo-liberal water policy that led to the commoditisation and thus commercialisation of water without sharply analysing the consequences. The consequences of not having invested enough in water infrastructure countrywide and its commercialisation meant that a good number of people have to struggle to get a drop of that life-saving resource which ironically is being turned into a 'tool of mass destruction' because of the constant cut-offs at the point of consumption.