20 June 2019

Namibia: 'Desalination Solution to Water Crisis'

Namibia needs at least three desalination plants to address the country's water shortage, a University of Namibia professor says.

Unam acting pro-vice chancellor for research, innovation and development, professor Frank Kavishe said this at the university's Sam Nujoma campus at Henties Bay on Tuesday.

The event was also attended by former president Sam Nujoma and Swapo secretary general Sophia Shaningwa.

The visit comes a month after Unam commissioned a small solar-powered desalination plant at the campus.

This plant can produce 3 000 litres of potable water an hour.

On a sunny day, it can produce 30 000 litres - enough to irrigate three hectares of land - or meet the needs of 300 families (comprising four people each) a day.

Kavishe said Namibia already receives the least rainfall in southern Africa, and the recurring droughts and unpredictable rainfall due to climate change emphasise the reality of water scarcity in the country.

"This is not just affecting dam levels, underground sources are also diminishing. We need a different approach to find water resources," he said, adding that Namibia has the advantage of having a 1 500km coastline, with the ocean and renewable energy sources such as solar.

"If we have extended droughts, the whole of Namibia will have problems. The north gets water from Angola, and the south from the Neckartal and Hardap dams. Extended droughts can pressurise these sources.

"In the long run, we must supply the whole country with water. We can have solar-powered desalination plants at the mouth of the Kunene River to supply the northern regions, and we can have another at Lüderitz for the south. When it comes to renewable energy, we have solar, wind and wave energy. We can combine all this, and achieve what we want," Kavishe said.

Accompanying this idea will be the development of "converting the desert into a green scheme", which will help with food security, he said.

Kavishe told The Namibian that one such plant would cost at least N$3 billion.

At the occasion, Nujoma said the Henties Bay plant could be developed into a sustainable source of water for Namibia's central coast, as well as central Namibia and the capital. He urged the government and Swapo to fund an expansion of the desalination plant at Henties Bay to avoid relying on underground water and rivers that are drying up.

Nujoma reiterated that the plant's expansion - powered by solar - is the solution to Namibia's water needs.

According to him, Namibia has enough renewable energy to drive such a project.

"We must invest in infrastructure now because water supply is diminishing due to climate change, which is being felt in the country. It seems drought may become prolonged, which will deplete groundwater resources," he said. Nujoma said NamWater had been looking at desalination since 20 years ago, but it never got off the ground. It was only when Orano built its plant near Wlotzkasbaken that the potential of desalination could be experienced first-hand - although it is only at half the capacity of the plant's potential.

The Orano plant can produce 20 million cubic metres of water a year. Orano has offered to sell the plant to the government, but to date, no deal has been agreed.

Nujoma said even if the Orano plant was running at full capacity, it would be seen only as an additional source if the Kuiseb aquifer on which Walvis Bay depends, runs out. It would, however, not be enough to supply the coast and central Namibia.

He added that preliminary feasibility studies suggest a 30 million cubic metre plant is required to supply Erongo and central Namibia (including Windhoek).

This would also require booster pumps to lift the desalinated water 1 700 metres above sea level to the interior.

"The time has come for us as a nation to put this idea to practice," said Nujoma.

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