Water pinch could cost building jobs
29 April 2016 | Disasters
With the impending threat of at least 40% water cuts at the end of the year the construction industry could face a possible mandatory slowdown next year, with concerns that even a temporary stop to new projects could affect the industry severely.
The suggestion to temporarily clamp down on tenders for big construction projects in Windhoek once the dams run dry was met with concerns that the ripple effect of such a move would be severe.
“The construction industry basically employs 20% of the workforce in Windhoek,” the owner of a large construction firm said on condition of anonymity.
He pointed out that a mandatory pause on new projects would affect the labour force and in turn spill over into other areas, creating a snowball effect worsening the unemployment and crime rates.
But he noted that the impact would be felt in the industry even without mandatory pauses on new projects.
“I know it will become more difficult for housing projects to be signed off. Approval for building plans will take longer and there will be more requirements,” he pointed out.
A report from the City of Windhoek recently showed that the city is not reaching its target of 30% water savings, averaging around 20%. A source claimed that the biggest culprits include government buildings where leaks are not repaired, plus the high use of water in the construction industry, and specifically road-construction projects.
However, several construction insiders noted that while the industry is water intensive, many other industries use equally high amounts of water.
“Stopping big projects is a very short-sighted solution,” one construction firm manager said. He added pressing the pause button on new projects, even singling out the big projects, would cause irreparable damage.
“The impact is, people will leave,” he said. Furthermore, the manager pointed out those pointing fingers at the construction industry ignored the fact that many other high consumers are not part of the construction industry.
In addition, he noted that stopping road projects, the biggest consumers of water in the construction industry, would be a short-term solution that could lead to long-term problems.
“It’s a difficult conundrum to deal with. I think it takes a common effort by all parties – the government, public and private individuals. The buck stops with the individuals. It is simple. Every individual has an obligation to save water in this country.”
Bärbel Kirchner, consulting general manager for the Construction Industries Federation of Namibia (CIF), this week said should there be a “deliberate slowdown of building and construction projects, it is a key requirement that Namibian companies will be given the work to ensure their survival and employment in Namibia’s construction sector.”
She said the industry did take note of the water crisis and suggested that “only key civil projects should be considered for the Khomas Region. Instead, funds should be reallocated to projects addressing the water crisis as well as the projects outside of the central region.”
Kirchner nevertheless pointed out that it is time, in light of the crisis, the authorities, including the City of Windhoek, NamWater and government should inform the public about the contingency plans that are being put in place in response to the “distinct possibility” of Windhoek running out of water.
She said that the construction sector “is a huge employer in Windhoek. It can lead to an economic downturn and a loss of jobs in construction” should restrictions in the industry be put in place.
Kirchner said that in light of the threat, “action is now required … blaming the consumer will not help to address the water crisis that has been looming for over 20 years”. She said it is critical that the authorities, including government, inform the public “about the short- and long term-plans to address the crisis”.
Kirchner added that the CIF “consistently reminds its members of the importance of saving water, and to implement measures and processes that reduce the consumption of water.”
Eloise du Plessis, equity analyst at PSG Namibia, yesterday said: “We believe other alternatives can be explored first that will not have a direct impact on the economy.”
She added that with a clampdown, “employment will decrease and in turn decrease consumer spending which will put more pressure on retailers”.
Du Plessis said that in 2015 “construction contributed 6.1% to GDP growth in preliminary numbers.”