Each year on 22 March, the international community comes together to celebrate the world’s most valuable resource, water. Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, and this year’s World Water Day (WWD) is dedicated to understanding the management of this precious resource, specifically the importance of wastewater.
Water is a resource that all people need on a daily basis. On the other side of things, all people also create sewage on a daily basis, a fact that is frequently overlooked. For this reason, the importance of wastewater persists, and its importance extrapolates because of on-going problems such as; climate change, environmental factors, population growth, increased urbanization, on-going water mismanagement and faulty water service provision systems.
Wastewater and the new water cycle
Wastewater can be used to Namibia’s advantage, and it importance is substantial due to the fact that that it is interconnected with other sources of water. For this reason, the repercussions of its mismanagement must be considered. With poor management, dangerous and harmful elements can enter the environment and can have devastating impacts on the environment and subsequently have an effect on us as humans (Menges, 2017).
Historically the natural water cycle accounts for wastewater. Through the natural process of precipitation and condensation, water is filtered through soil and creates aquifers, where water is naturally purified. Ground water, river runoff and transpiration from plants and animals causes evaporation and the process repeats itself. However, new factors now play into the water cycle.
Due to urbanisation there is a new water cycle, the urban water cycle. Rainwater and other water sources are caught in dams where the water receives pre-treatment for human consumption. It is then distributed for human consumption where, once used, is collected again. This wastewater is either classified as greywater or blackwater. Greywater is wastewater obtained from water used in bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines, whereas blackwater contains fecal matter and is therefore collected from toilets (Lamb, 2008).
Wastewater receives various treatments making it either ready for human consumption, especially relevant in Namibia, or will safely be reintroduced into the natural cycle. Treatment of waterwater can add essential nutrients that can be exploited for agricultural use. Without the last step there would be severe effects on the environment.
Economic implications of water resources
As water is a key factor of production in all market sectors, and as it is a scarce resource in Namibia, competition for this resource exists. According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Policy of 2009 (WSASP) the first priority user are consumers, however domestic use of water was only 12.2%.
Agriculture accounted for the highest water consumption with total use of 75% in 2002 of which 23% was communal agriculture and 52% was for commercial agriculture (Global Water Partnership Southern Africa, 2009). As agriculture’s contribution was only 5.5% in 2002 and has
been decreasing over the past years (3.3% in 2016) it is imperative that water monitoring be prevalent in this sector. It is, however, a lead sector within the employment market as it accounted for 29.45% of employment in 2016 hence has an importance to the livelihood of many Namibians (Sherbourn, 2016).
Finally, the importance of subsistence farming in Namibia should also be considered. As 31.2% of poor Namibians and 14.6% of severely poor Namibians main sources of income derives from subsistence farming (Sherbourn, 2016), indicating that it contributes to the overall utility of many Namibians.
3.3% of water use was attributed to mining, and as mining contributes 12.5% to Namibia’s gross domestic product (GDP), it is evident that the returns on water use, in the mining sector, are significantly higher than returns present in agriculture (Sherbourn, 2016). This has been achieved by strict water practices in this industry and through the installation of grey and blackwater systems.
Water restriction can have a tremendous effect on these sectors but there is greater concern for the central areas in Namibia, which receive its water primarily from boreholes. Since water demand already exceeds the long-term sustainable supply capacities of existing resources, it is evident that this is an area of grave concern. These areas are also densely populated therefore according to the WSASP, this is a serious issue. Consequently, wastewater from these areas has been successfully used to help lessen water deficits but important measures, regarding restrictions, still need to be implemented.
Namibia leads in wastewater management
Incidentally wastewater management is a process Namibia is not only a pioneer in, but is at the forefront of the technology. As Namibia is situated in a desert and is continuously plagued with droughts, it has had to create new measures to not only provide its population with water but also protect its environment.
As Windhoek is situated in one of the most arid countries in Africa, with perennial rivers in excess of 500 km to the North or South, it mainly depends on drinking water supplies from boreholes and three surface dams in ephemeral rivers, which are non-perennial rivers that flow for short periods due to rainfall, roughly 60 to 200 km away. Water shortages from these supplies prompted the city to look for alternatives to augment the water supply (Pinzon, 2015).
The first reclamation plant started to operate in 1968 with a capacity of 4 800 m3/d. Since then, the reclamation process has undergone various changes of improvement. In September 2002, the New Goreangab Reclamation Plant (NGRP) was commissioned having a 21,000 m3/day capacity fit for human consumption. The old plant is now treating effluents for irrigation of parks and sports fields (Menge, 2005).
A second plant, Gammams, has a capacity of 26,000 m3/day. Its main purpose is to safely reintroduce wastewater into the environment. The protection of the environment is of utmost importance due to the fact that tourism, agriculture and fisheries contribute significantly to our GDP and employment. Gammams has also investigated and performed other uses of wastewater resources. It has practiced the use of biogas and fertilisation in the past. Both these opportunities will have the potential to be exploited more in the future.
Addressing water crisis by reusing water
Although the groundbreaking technologies exist and important policies are prevalent, Namibia and its most populated city Windhoek face a severe water crisis. To protect the sovereignty of Namibia’s wellbeing it will require a shared responsibility and therefore domestic water, and wastewater management, will be key strategy in meeting supply restrictions. Due to the Government of the Republic of Namibia’s goal of reducing the financial deficit there will be a proposed decrease of 13.4% spent on agriculture, water and forestry (PWC, 2017).
Albeit the decrease, in spending on water, Namibia has been blessed with rain during the beginning quarter of the year. This however should not prompt consumers into thinking the crisis is over. The rains have not sufficiently increased dam levels to maximum capacity. Furthermore, even if dams providing water to Windhoek were full, a scarcity of water would still persist, and the city would continue to be affected.
Windhoek Dam supplies were only up to 33% this year, which is an increase of 18% from last year. Southern Dams were up to 75.2% from 52.2% in 2016 and Gobabis Dams were down to 17%, which is a dramatic decrease from 29% in the previous year (NamWater, 2017).
Challenges facing water sources in Namibia
Inconsistent, low annual rainfalls also hinder regeneration of aquifers. Moreover as annual rainfall amounts to 370mm per year and with evaporations rates as high as 3400 mm a year, a huge deficit exists (Global Water Partnership Southern Africa, 2009). This has led to the consistent problem of reservoirs and dams losing excess amounts of water due to evaporation.
As reliable water sources are situated on the border of Namibia there are several problems with accessibility. With almost a fifth of the population situated in the middle of the country, where there is little rainfall and over extraction of natural aquifers, the stresses of urbanization have been transferred to the various reclamation plants. As no major improvements have been made to these plants, and due to increased wastewater produced, potential bottlenecks could exist.
It is clearly evident that a joint effort needs to exist to lower the stresses of municipal responsibilities on water and to address the water supply issue. With no inflow from the previous season and with normal rainfalls, crippling water shortages are expected in the future.
United effort in reusing water
It is evident that wastewater management is an aspect that Namibia has immense expertise in. It acquired this expertise due to necessity, but this necessity is a shared responsibility, therefore should be considered by the population as a whole. Individuals need to continue water restriction practices and should reuse wastewater when fit.
In 2016 the residents of Windhoek only restricted water use by 28% (Menges, 2017), and therefore, increased regulation that instills a culture of saving water is of utmost importance.
This will allow Namibia to keep harmonized with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 6, ‘Ensure access to water and sanitation for all’. In succeeding to complete this goal other SDGs will inherently be achieved.
Here are some simple ways in which anyone at domestic level can reduce water consumption or reuse their wastewater resources (Greywater Action, 2017);
- Ensure that no leaks exist on your current pipes. If there are leaks ensure that these are blocked immediately.
- If no capital restrictions exist households should install water saving showerheads. These can reduce shower water down from 15-25 liters per minute to 6-7 liters per minute.
- Avoid bathing and ensure that you are taking shorter showers.
- Shower with buckets present to catch water and also catch water from dishwashing. This water can be used to water gardens.
- Do not brush your teeth or wash your face with running water.
- Plant indigenous plants that exist in your current area. This will reduce the need to water them as much as they are used to the environment. Therefore, you should only water garden when necessary.
- Only use dishwashers and washing machines when they are full to capacity.
- Use a bucket to wash your car. Using a hosepipe can lead to excessive water wastage.
- Flush your toilet only when it is necessary. You can also use greywater to fill your toilet cistern.
Following in the steps of the Namibian Government, a strong culture of ‘reduce and reuse’ will help alleviate some of the stresses on the water cycle and allow for the full potential of wastewater to be tapped into.
WABAG, 2001. Windhoek Goreangab, Water Reclamation Plant, Namibia. [Online] Available at: http://www.wabag.com/wabag-projects/windhoek-goreangab-water-reclamation-plant/ [Accessed 3 March 2017].
WABAG, 2015. WABAG receives Global Water Distinction Award. [Online] Available at: http://www.wabag.com/wabagmedia/wabag-receives-global-water-distinction-award/ [Accessed 3 March 2017].
World Water Assessment Programme, 2006. Water a shared responsibility. Report 2. New York: Berghahn Books United Nations World Water Development.
Van Der Walt, C., 2003. Multiple Barriers Ensure Safe Potable Water From Reclaimed Sewage. [Online] GFJ Consulting Engineers Available at: http://www.wrc.org.za/Knowledge%20Hub%20Documents/Water%20Wheel/Articles/Archive/WW_03_Jul-Aug_Windhoek_p24-28.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2017].
Global Water Partnership Southern Africa, 2009. IWRM SURVEY AND STATUS REPORT: Namibia. Status Report. Windhoek: Global Water Partnership Southern Africa Desert Research Foundation of Namibia.
Lahnstiener, J. & Lampert, G., 2007. Water management in Windhoek Namibia. Water Science and Technology, 55(1-2), pp.441-48. Available at: http://www.wabag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Water-management-in-Windhoek-2007.pdf.
NamWater, 2017. Weekly Dam Bulliten. [Online] NamWater Available at: https://www.namwater.com.na/images/data/dam_bulletin/_Dambulletin2017-03-13.pdf [Accessed 14 March 2017].
Menge, J., 2005. Treatment of wastewater for re-use in drinking water system of Windhoek. [Online] EWISA Available at: http://www.ewisa.co.za/literature/files/339%20Menge.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2017].
Menges, W., 2017. Water crisis continues while dam levels rise. [Online] Available at: http://www.namibian.com.na/51190/read/Water-crisis-continues-while-dam-levels-rise [Accessed 3 March 2017].
Pinzon, D., 2015. Lessons from Namibia’s innovative water system. [Online] Available at: http://www.scidev.net/sub-saharan-africa/water/feature/namibia-innovative-water-system.html [Accessed 3 March 2017].
Sherbourn, R., 2016. Guide to the Namibian Economy 2017. 1st ed. Windhoek: Institute for Public Policy Research.