Looming water crisis in Botswana

Gaborone- An economic expert has called on authorities in Botswana to declare the water shortages in the country a matter of national security, as the capital Gaborone and other parts of the country are on the verge of running dry.

The Gaborone Dam on the Notwane River that supplies the capital and other areas including Lobatse was declared drying up earlier this year, while other water sources for greater Gaborone are struggling to cope with the current water demand.

This situation has forced the Water Utility Corporation (WUC) to ration water supply across the country.

As of April 2015, the Gaborone Dam which supplies the greater Gaborone area was filled at a paltry 2.6% out of its maximum capacity of 141.4 million cubic metres.

Media reports indicate that while most of the developed dams in Botswana are concentrated along the eastern corridor, it has emerged that there are no more dam sites available in the country.

Dr Emmanuel Botlhale of the University of Botswana recently told the Botswana Gazette:

“On the eco front, water is an important factor in the production process. Amongst others, it is a driver of the economy and thus, modern economies will collapse in the face of chronic water challenges.

“Unfortunately, due to its arid climate and continual droughts, Botswana is grappling with a serious water challenge. The way it is, the matter should be elevated to a national security challenge so that it assumes pride of place in public discourse. Thus, it is imperative to address the challenge because most water sources, particularly dams, are almost dry.”

Dr Botlhale said stringent water management, conservation (including recycling) and looking for alternative sources are the measures required to deal with the crisis.

He said public awareness was essential so that users are conscious of the matter and that they support the cause accordingly.

“Controversially, pricing may have to be adjusted upwards,” he said.

Botswana is currently actively pursuing the Chobe-Zambezi transfer scheme and the Lesotho Highlanders transfer while negotiations with riparian states are underway.

Water and Minerals Minister Kitso Mokaila said the Gaborone area, which during summer on average uses 145 million cubic litres of water per day, is now being rationed to 110 million cubic litres per day.

However, the minister is hopeful that the current water rationing will ensure that everyone gets a share of the already limited resource.

Mokaila was quoted saying that his ministry is undertaking various projects, both emergency and long term around the country to quell the scarcity of water.

He said some of these projects will be completed this year while others are long term, adding that only the Francistown area north of the country has enough water. Tsabong in the west and its surrounding areas are the hardest hit.

Mokaila said after all the major projects being carried out have been completed, the situation may improve, adding that “soon pre-paid meters will also be rolled out nationally to help in water usage restrictions and accountability”.

WUC spokesperson Matida Mmipi said as long as there are low levels of rainfall, which has caused the water levels in the Gaborone Dam to fall, Batswana should use water responsibly.

“We still have to use water responsibly. The water restrictions effected in August 2012 still stand,” said Mmipi. She said the water corporation was working tirelessly to ensure that some boreholes were operational to augment water supply in the southern part of the country.

The water demand in Botswana is expected to be at 229 million cubic meters in 2020 and 286 million cubic meters in 2036.

Demand is expected to outstrip supply in the near future hence water authorities are forced to come up with reasonable and plausible initiatives.

Agriculture is the biggest water user in Botswana, accounting for 45 percent of all water used with the lowest productivity.

To ameliorate the water problem, the government will need P165 billion cash injection while solutions aligned to wastewater will call for a total of P5 billion.

The national budget presented by Minister of Finance and Development Planning Kenneth Matambo is P50 billion, which way below the P170 billion required for water hence the need for private sector involvement in water projects.

In the 2015 budget, the largest share of the development budget was allocated to the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR) at P3.32 billion or 25.7 percent of the budget.

“This is meant to allow Government to continue to address the water and power issues facing the country by putting in place appropriate infrastructure,” reads part of the budget statement.

As indicated in the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) study titled ‘Water Pricing and Policy in Botswana’, the Draft National Policy of 2010 creates an impression that current water consumption, especially ground water consumption is sustainable.

It is claimed that Botswana has an internal renewable annual water supply of approximately 2.5km3 per annum. The most recent estimates of consumption in the draft document suggest that total usage was 0.25km3/per annum in 2009.

“This means, if one accepts the official estimates of sustainability in the national water policy, that annual per capita water consumption has reached approximately 125m3 per capita, up from 94m3 per capita in the late 1990s.

“Approximately one third of this renewable water is the renewable recharge of ground water, which remains the principal source of water supply for most commercial and rural users,” the study indicates. It further reveals that almost all mines currently in operation in Botswana depend to a very large degree on ground water from boreholes at what is widely accepted as unsustainable rates.

In Botswana, the general obligation of mine licenses in the past had been to procure their own water, which BIDPA says may have been appropriate when there were two or three large mines widely dispersed around the country and with relatively little obvious conflict between mining and other end users as was the case when the legislation was written in the immediate post-independence era.

May 2015
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