Authorities slipped up

Report highlights weak water governance

12 October 2016 | Disasters

A report on water governance slams poor planning and execution as the reasons for the current water crisis.

A critical overview of Namibia''s current and historical record on water governance takes aim at a number of failures to act by authorities despite clear indications that water is running out.

Titled ''Water Governance in Namibia: A Tale of Delayed Implementation, Policy Shortfalls and Miscommunication'', the report highlights a number of issues that have limited the country''s ability to address its critical water problems and relentless demand.

The report states that in 2008, total water demand from urban, rural, mining, livestock, tourism and other sectors was calculated to be 334.1 million cubic metres per year.

In 2015, annual demand had risen to 426.7 million cubic metres. In 2020, demand is expected to shoot up to 583.4 million cubic metres.

Despite this, institutional weaknesses, including poor communication, lack of governance, and failure to implement plans and policies, have led to a sluggish response to increasing water demand coupled with recurring drought and other challenges.

Yet, while the report highlights many issues linked to the public water sector, it emphasises that the government alone should not be responsible for addressing the magnitude of water management issues.

“All citizens need to rethink their attitude and activities with regard to their use of this precious resource.”

The analysis, produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), includes a number of recommendations which should be implemented as a matter of urgency, including “a far more open, sober and frank dialogue” about water resource management between all stakeholders, including the public.

According to the report, the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) Plan for Namibia estimates that roughly 97% of rainfall in Namibia is lost through evaporation.

Merely two percent ends up as run-off surface water and only one percent recharges groundwater aquifers.

Yet, despite these numbers, “it can be argued that in Namibia the water sector has not been given the attention from a governance perspective that it rightly deserves,” the report states.

The authors argue that although at a “cursory glance the theme of water supply and sanitation in the country''s post-independence development had, and continues to have a fairly important role”, a closer look at the current water sector reveals a number of deficiencies.

The most obvious example is the current central area water crisis “brought about primarily by the failure of the state to address the situation as a matter of national urgency”.

“Similar to other sectors in Namibia, water and sanitation is hampered by poor implementation of overall sound if ambitious policies,” the report reads.

Moreover, mistrust and a lack of communication between public institutions, the private sector and the general public “severely limits problem-solving approaches.”

Other issues listed include severe underinvestment, limited capacity and technical skills, poor coordination among stakeholders and weak regulation and enforcement.

Another issue is the number of institutions involved in regulating and managing the water sector.

“As it stands the various institutions responsible for the water and sanitation sector are all struggling to meet their assigned responsibilities,” the report states.

It says while the government has placed emphasis on policies and reports, capacity building and training was neglected despite concerns about the lack of capacity to manage water resources.

Despite a critical shortage of skills and capacity in the sector, “there are few visible concerted efforts apparent that seek to mitigate and reverse the situation.”

Researchers found that NamWater''s staff complement declined by nearly half, from 1 160 to 601 between 2001 and 2008. In its 2015 annual report, NamWater stated that although it had approved a permanent workforce of 660, only 584 positions had been filled.

Most vacancies are located in the Water Supply and Engineering & Scientific Services departments, positions critical to Namibia''s water governance.

Another challenge is a lack of coordination and communication, which is described as weak in the report. The criticism concerns not only communication between various public institutions, but also addresses the “oftentimes patchy and poor” communication directed to the public and business fraternity.

Recommendations include finalising regulations for the Water Resources Management Act, establishing key governing institutions including the Water Advisory Council, implementing the IWRM plan and fast-tracking water infrastructure projects.

Both government and the public sector should place more emphasis on water demand management practices to ensure that environmental sustainability is pursued.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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