A Quest for Water: Harnessing the sea for parched Namibia

Windhoek – The Namibian government wants construction of a second water desalination plant, with capacity to produce 60 million cubic metres of treated water, to start in 2014.

Namibia’s second water desalination plant, initially estimated to cost around R1.5 billion, is aimed at supplying water to uranium mining companies in the semi-arid Erongo Region.

Excess water would be sold to the coastal towns of Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Arandis.

It also represents a breakthrough for Namibia, one of Africa’s driest countries as it harnesses sea water for use using state-of-the-art technology and water treatment methods such as screen filtration, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis and chlorination.

Water from the sea goes through various processes to remove salt and other minerals to produce fresh water suitable for human consumption and other uses such as irrigation.

Nehemiah Abraham, Under-secretary for Water and Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said that an evaluation process on three shortlisted companies is being concluded, and a contract to build the plant would have been awarded by December.

Government has narrowed down the list of bidders to three, from seven applications, Abraham said.

Construction of the water desalination plant is expected to start in 2014 as a public-private sector partnership.

“We are in the process of evaluating the shortlisted bidders and we are looking forward to finalise this process this year as well as award the contract before December. Government has indicated that it wants the construction of the plant to start in 2014,” Abraham said.

The desalination plant will be managed under a special purpose vehicle with government shareholding represented by state-owned Namibia Water Corp (Namwater).

Abraham said that government initially indicated it would finance 30 percent of the capital requirements for the plant, while the private partner will finance the bulk of the capital requirements.

“The winning bidder must mobilise the big chunk of the funds,” Abraham said.

Namibia has opted to own 30 percent equity in the plant with an option to raise its shareholding over 15 years, Abraham said.

“There will be an option to raise the shareholding over the next 15 years, or earlier, depending on availability of funds. Government is not in a position to fork out the entire R1.5 billion now,” he said.

Construction will start in 2014 and once in production, the plant will take over supply of water to uranium mines in the Erongo region from Areva SA’s plant, which recently signed a deal with Namwater to distribute water to three uranium mines in the area.

“The aim is to have first water from the desalination plant running by around 2016,” Abraham said.

Areva’s existing desalination plant was built to supply water to Trekkopje uranium mine, which Areva mothballed last year after prices of the nuclear fuel slumped.

Areva signed an agreement two weeks ago to supply 10 million cubic metres of water a year to Paladin Energy Ltd’s Langer Heinrich uranium mine, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co’s Husab uranium project and Rio Tinto Plc’s Rossing mine.

Namibia’s Erongo region, which is in the Namib Desert, suffers from severe water shortages. The water supply agreement between Areva and Namwater is a ‘stop gap measure as private companies are not allowed to sell water,’ Abraham said.

“The Areva plant is bridging the water supply needs of mining companies due to the fact that our desalination plant is not in place yet. We saw the need for companies to take the water from Areva plant now until our plant is in place. Private sector is not allowed to sell water, it’s not privatised in Namibia,” he said.

September 2013
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