War on water privatization

> Batcho Trimtab Katumbo

On October 2nd, 2015, The Namibian a national newspaper recently published a story “Govt halts Rossing water plant.” Rossing a uranium mining company in Namibia for over 30 years to date wished to build a distillation plant like their counterparts at Areva, a French parastatal. Areva has been developing the Trekkopje for less than 10 years.

The Namibian government rejected Rossing’s proposal for the reason that the government feels they should be the sole supplier of water through Namwater, their parastatal. I find it extremely obscure that the company that gets to build its own distillation plant Areva is a French company, and that two of the three biggest water privatization corporations in the world come out of France, Veolia Water and Suez. What are the chances that one of these world corporations has already gained access to our water provision services through Namwater? And how then do we explain the government’s presumptuous efforts to reject Rossing’s plans while Areva got theirs distillation plant with no hassle?  There is no deceit here, the cards were played openly and the message is clear, “No French Connection, No French Benefits.”

The proposed plan by Namwater Corporation to shut the Northern water canal is an equal opportunity offender. There is a water crisis in the central highlands as water supplies to the nation’s capital are limited, but there should be no crisis in the northern regions especially Omusati region where they have access to fresh water all year courtesy of the canal which brings water to Oshakati from the Cunene River.

The proposed closure of the Canal by Namwater Corporation means one thing only; They are consciously creating a water crisis for over half a million people who thrive because of the mere existence of this water way. All this is in the name of making water a commodity, something that they will now be able to sell to these villagers through their local or regional councils.

Namwater Corporation have an argument, they are citing high maintenance costs and frequent vandalism from community members and the annual floods of the Cuvelai Delta. We are not impulsive and do not believe their corporate lies, we know that numbers can be cooked. So closing this canal I assume will lead to greater efficiency because a pipeline is better regulated you would think, but ultimately the efficiency for the Corporation is merely to see more profits flow into their coffers and misery for the people and their livestock. Namwater is a parastatal and like all others need higher profits.  Therefore the duty of Namwater is to put the interest of their shareholders before the needs of the people they serve.

Commercializing water in Rural Communities is Atrocious

Selling water in the rural areas will only make life harder for these inhabitants. As less water becomes available in our already dry country due to climate change Namwater now want to privatize water in the communal areas by destroying the canal.

When you commodify a product, you sell it to the highest bidders. Those with the least money will get the least of the product. Those who are most likely to benefit from the privatization are the mining industry for they have the most money, we have companies that are in the food and beverage sector who will bottle the water and sell it at exorbitant prices to the community. Not everyone can afford a $US1 bottled water every day of the week.

Namwater is bringing a water problem which is not in this part of the country and they are inviting conflict. There will be public unrest and peace as we know it in this country might be something of the past. It would do the economists and advisors of this corporation based in Windhoek pushing for the closure of the canal good to make case studies of countries like Bolivia and Kenya where water corporations privatized water.

Namwater Corporation is taking full advantage of being the only water providing entity in the country.

With global climate change and water becoming chronically short, privatizing and owning water is becoming a lucrative business at the expense of the poor. As the then chairperson of BiWater Adrian White stated when he advised on privatization of water companies over a decade and a half ago in 1999 and I paraphrase “1. People need water so there will always be a guaranteed return on investment 2. They have automatic tariff increase formulas so no matter how low and cheap the water prices are initially they will eventually have you digging deeper in your pockets 3. Price of water is protected/not affected from/by inflation, devaluation and foreign exchange rates 4. They are absolute monopolies, with no competition which means they will not necessarily follow market dynamics.

Social Ramifications of the Canal Removal

Usually where it’s a communal area we have socialist orientation why then capitalize our water in a communal setting. Something you don’t generate nor manufacture?

We understand the stress on local water supply but it doesn’t mean the status quo has to change, when the foot and mouth (FMD) outbreak affected communal farmers north of the red line; those in town didn’t suffer the consequences. If those in town are running out of water, they shouldn’t exploit the resources of those in the communal areas. Urban dwellers are not aware of the impact that their ill consumption habits are having on the communal inhabitants of this country.

Water will constantly have to be redirected from natural sources in communal areas to the urban areas where the powerful bureaucrats reside.

I might not be an economist but I am on the ball when I say that communal areas sustain the urban areas. I have lived in Windhoek and in Swakopmund, Namibian towns with high housing prices and cost of living in general. A security guard with a salary of N$1 200 and a bar tender in a shebeen with a salary of N$800 will not survive 31 days living in those two towns strictly on their salaries.

With my little informal research I have concluded that; for the poor in the bigger towns their food source is mainly derived from the communal areas, their families plough and work the land, they send bags of pearl millet, sorghum, peas, beans, groundnuts, watermelons, dried fresh water fish, Mopani worms, etc. throughout the year according to the season of occurrence of the different food stuff.

Now doing what economists do best; assuming the knock on effect of drying up this canal and replacing it with a pipeline will be:

1. Because of water restrictions the field yields will be considerably lower

2. Less food (or no food at all) will be sent to urban areas to help their relatives

3. Relatives in town feel the pinch, money not enough to buy food, cosmetics, pay rent, and cooking gas

4. Relatives look for alternative forms of income but if the education level is anything less than grade 8, worst case scenario they resort to crime

7. Crime rates increase, prisons are filled. Government spends more tax money on economically unproductive inmates.  The knock on effect can be bigger, the government should really look into it.  This canal is essential to the existence of many of these communities, drying up this canal can potentially change the face of our social culture.

The food we eat comes from projects along this canal.

Yes for the projects with the irrigation schemes nothing will change in the output but it will now be costly and the Namibian market cannot afford to raise their prices amidst the already low prices of imported food products. Shelves will increasingly be stocked with less Namibian green.

Water is very political and the government is rightfully involved. The government talks about water as a scarce resource but they do not walk the talk, when they talk about other scarce resources they walk the talk.

There are strict measures to obtaining an EPL for example. I don’t see them implementing the same strict measures when it comes to water, how many unregistered car washes do we have? Why not implement a monthly water quota system to those in the wealthy Windhoek East constituency who have multiple bathrooms and swimming pools? Why not implement a monthly quota to Namibian breweries?

Having water as a commodity means we will never have equality, somebody somewhere will always have less.

This already is the case in the capital and every other town in Namibia. People simply cannot afford water, the tariffs are too high and municipalities are constantly cutting the water supply to homes of thousands.

We do not want our water privatized by these sinister corporations.

October 2015
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