Water crisis in the north

03 May 2019 | Disasters

A break in the canal supplying water from Angola has caused a water shortage in northern Namibia, which was already struggling to cope with a crippling drought and high water debts.

For the past two weeks, the central-northern regions have been experiencing water-supply interruptions because of repairs to the Calueque-Oshakati canal.

The timing could not have been worse. Thousands of head of livestock in the four regions have added to the pressure on the water-supply system, which is struggling to supply enough water to a densely populated area.

NamWater spokesperson Johannes Shigwedha says the national utility had to close its pumps at the Calueque Dam in Angola and is now drawing water from Olushandja Dam to supply its purification plants at Outapi, Ogongo and Oshakati.

Olushandja is not large enough to supply the populations of the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto regions, though.

Shigwedha says the canal is damaged close to the border with Angola. “This is not the normal annual interruption for cleaning the canal after the rainy season to remove sand and other objects,” he says.

“This is a breakage, as the canal was broken near Olushandja from Omahenene. The damaged part is about 500 metres long and we had to close the pumps in Angola so that we could replace the damaged blocks with concrete, which we have been busy with for the past two days or so,” Shigwedha says.

“We had to close the pumps at Calueque and we also had to block water that was already in the canal at Olushandja. We also had to replace the valves at Olushandja and currently are pumping water from Olushandja to supply water to the Outapi, Ogongo and Oshakati purification plants, but this water is not enough.”

Shigwedha says the concrete blocks have been replaced but need to dry completely before pumping can resume.

“Water pumped from Olushandja will take two days to reach Oshakati. They have to fill the reservoir before going into purification and fill the supplying reservoir again. That is why we have a water supply interruption,” he says.

Residents say they have to wake up in the middle of the night to get water. At places near Oshakati they can get a slow flow of water but farther away there is no flow at all.

This has left people and livestock without water for about two weeks.

Shigwedha says NamWater is supplying clinics and hospitals directly.

As NamWater pumps water out of the Olushandja Dam, there is not enough left for the small-scale irrigation farms around the dam, which has resulted in crop failure.

The 17-kilometre-long and two-kilometre-wide Olushandja Dam serves as reservoir to store water for emergency usage.

Shigwedha says after the canal is repaired NamWater will pump water back into Olushandja.

NamWater has also announced that the Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena and Omusati regions owe it N$300 million. Unless this debt is paid, it might result in water disconnections.

This was announced at a meeting with the Namibia National Farmers Union and Oshana Regional Council at Oshakati on Tuesday.

Mathew Shitaatala of the Oshana rural water supply directorate said villagers in the Oshana Region owe NamWater N$48 million.

The communities with the highest debts are Okashandja-Olwege (N$6 million), Omaalala-Ombutu (N$5 million), Oshakati-Omapale (N$3.4 million) and Oniizimba (N$1.6 million).


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