Desalination – time for talk is over

The panel consisted of eight experts stemming from various organisations and institutions, each giving a brief presentation if desalination is indeed a sustainable solution to Namibia’s water crisis. “We are in dire straits, but we shouldn’t be afraid and rather embrace desalination. There is no other option,” said Dewald Duvenhage, GM Engineering Services at the Municipality Swakopmund.

His view was shared with the other panel-lists, saying that desalination is indeed the only option to ensure a constant water supply. “If we wish to discuss this topic we need to ask ourselves if we want national development decoupled from rain,” said Detlof von Oertzen, an independent specialist and Director of VO Consulting.
Von Oertzen presented an interesting idea/ concept, to solve not only the water crisis for the coast and the capital Windhoek, but at the same time address food and electricity security. “We need to decen-tralize development. I suggest the establishment of industrial corridors,” von Oertzen said. He suggests that one such industrial corridor could be established between Swakopmund and Windhoek. “If we build a desalination plant and feed water to the capital, we can have agricultural and agro-technical developments along the way,” he said. To address the energy crisis, he suggested the development of renewable energy sources in these corridors.
The option of establishing a new desalination plant to solve the water crisis was first considered in 2004. This was said by Willem Venter, Head, Planning and Water Resources Management, NamWater. “It took us twelve years to discuss and we still have no answer,” he said. As significant reason for the delay he noted that the estimated capital investment required for a new desalination plant would be about N$14 billion. Currently the entire NamWater asset base in Namibia is estimated to be worth N$5.2 billion. “So you can see money is an issue,” he said.
Venter continued saying that water is the cheapest commodity in Namibia and even if the prices would increase tenfold it would still be the cheapest commodity. Currently water costs 1.5 cents per litre in Windhoek, making water cheaper than petrol (N$10.36/l), bottled water (N$12/l) and milk (N$14/l). “Why the big outcry because desalinated water is expensive when we can up price tenfold and it would still be cheap,” he said.
The viability of desalination as one of the options towards attaining water security for Namibia is currently still debated in certain circles of the society. But as the driest country south of the Sahara, Namibia is running out of options to supply this precious resource to its growing population and industry. But desalination has far reaching implications for, amongst others, the government, industry, local authorities and consumers.

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