May’s public holiday season is upon us, an opportunity for reflection and remembrance. We look back this month and celebrate the hard-fought gains achieved by workers and the labour movements on Workers Day, we commemorate the approximately 600 victims of the Cassinga Massacre and, depending on your religious leanings, we remember the ultimate sacrifice God made for us and the eventual ascension to heaven of Jesus Christ. We also mark the 1963 creation of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) on Africa Day, when we celebrate the continent and the great potential it offers, while not forgetting the many fierce battles for freedom.
In other matters, though, Namibians are very bad at remembering. Just four years ago Namibia’s dams were running dry, the City of Windhoek was posting a Weekly Water Watch which detailed by how much that week’s water saving targets had been exceeded. People were encouraged to install grey-water irrigation systems and collect shower and basin water to flush their toilets with, and elaborate plans were published for desalination plants at the coast and a pumping system to get that water all the way to the central parts of the country, and even, in some iterations of the plans, as far as Botswana.
But then the rain came. Farmers rejoiced, gardens were replanted, and the dam levels rose rapidly – including that of the newly completed Neckartal Dam in the south of the country, catching everyone by surprise with no plans put in place yet to actually make use of all that water. We forgot!
We forgot all the pleas to replant our lawns with more water-wise options. We forgot all the articles explaining how Namibia has always been and always will be a water-stressed country, and, even though many still don’t like to admit it, that climate change is only going to make this worse in the coming years. We forgot that already in 1995 Windhoek was struggling to meet the water demand of its growing population and that various experts suggested that the city exceeded sustainable water supply in 2012. And we forgot that as Namibians we should never stop saving water.
While we have had a relatively good rainy season in the early part of this year, Namwater CEO Abraham Nehemia has cautioned that that rain water has not made it into the country’s dams. According to the latest Dam Bulletin at the time of writing, the Neckartal Dam is still 93.2% full, but the dams that supply the central region are only at 39.7% of their combined total capacity and the level of Hardap Dam outside Mariental is only 40.3%.
We also forgot that, to paraphrase Merle Haggart, the good times can’t last forever, and that after the ‘little girl’, La Niña, we need to be ready for El Niño. This means we need to brace ourselves for hotter temperatures and lower rainfall, and, in the words of climate change and energy expert Nick Hedley, as a country already prone to drought we “need to have solid drought preparation plans in place”.
May is, overall, a month of remembrance and we are going to need to remember. Remember not to wash our cars with a hosepipe, or better yet, not wash them at all; remember to only water our gardens in the cooler hours of the day, and perhaps replant them with more water-wise options and use our shower and basin water to keep them alive; remember what it feels like to have higher tariffs charged for water use over a certain threshold; remember seeing and hearing daily reminders to save water wherever we can; and remember the adage “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”.
Perhaps most importantly of all, while the Wingoc Water Reclamation Plant has had upgrades to allow greater capacity since the last drought, and we can only hope that the rain we received over the past three years managed to recharge the various aquifers and groundwater sources across the country, we must remember as Namibians that we cannot wait for the government or local authorities to have to force us: we always need to save water.
I might have gone on a bit of a rant this month but my colleagues don’t call me “the friendly neighbourhood prophet of doom” for nothing. And while we are on the topic of water, just be glad I didn’t get started on all the plastic used for the consumption of bottled water…
Until next month, enjoy your journey (in a water-wise way 😉)!
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– A news editor’s view