Namibia, Angola make headway in Ohangwena aquifer

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek- The Namibian government has made progress to tap water from Ohangwena aquifer, which once fully developed will solve chronic water shortages in northern Namibia, a region home to over half of the country’s 2.3 million people.

The gigant ic 100km underground fresh water aquifer that straddles Ohangwena region and snakes into southern Angola was discovered more than four years. Experts say the aquifer, that lies 300m deep, holds enough water to supply the region for about 400 years.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, with assistance from technical partners and in collaboration with the Angolan government, has conducted studies and test trials about the viability of the underground water source.

Agriculture, Water and Forestry’s permanent secretary Abraham Nehemiah told The Southern Times that the government was busy finalising the feasibility study before.

The ministry is currently carrying out pilot projects by supplying water to Eenhana and Omundaungilo constituencies in Ohangwena region from the aquifer to test the quality and quantity of the water.

“We started pumping water to test if water quality changes and how water quantity is behaving. Once we are done with the study, we will put up a full production plan on how to utilise that aquifer in order to address the scarcity of water in the region,” he said.

Water around Eenhana and Omundaungilo towards the eastern constituencies proved to be of better quality as it is mixed with water from Kunene River, while water around Ondombe has proven to have higher level of fluoride, according to Nehemiah.

Northern Namibia, which comprises Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena and Omusati regions, is supplied with fresh water from the Kunene River by a transboundary canal from Calueque in southern Angola to Oshakati, in Oshana. The water is then distributed throughout the region via a system of pipelines.

Fillipus Shilongo, the acting chief regional officer for Ohangwena Regional Council, said the region is pinning its hope on the aquifer to solve the lingering water shortage.

Close to 70 percent of region’s inhabitants in rural areas continue to drink “brown and blackish” water from traditional wells and salty water from borehole, which is not even fit for animal consumption, Shilongo told The Southern Times.

Among the const ituencies affected by water scarcity are Oshikunde, Epembe, Omundaungilo, and Okongo where people are dependent “only on boreholes and earth dams as their only source of water,” he said.

“The water from Oshikunde and Epembe boreholes has been confirmed to contain higher fluoride, which is not suitable for human consumption. It is really a challenge because even if we pay companies to drill more boreholes, or revamp the existing ones, the water is not suitable for human and animals consumption,” he said.

As a remedial measure, Ohangwena Regional Council has been supplying drinking water to schools and clinics in the most affected constituencies with water tanks, while water purification tablets are distributed in the community by other stakeholders including the Ministry of Health and Social Services and Namibia Red Cross Society to remedy the situation.

Shilongo stressed they have appealed to the national water utility, NamWater, to expand its water network to the affected areas, to no avail.

“Since 1999, the regional council has been engaging NamWater to extend water up to Okongo. But based on their cost analysis approach, the water utility was of the opinion that taking water to Okongo, which is about 100km from Eenhana, is not economically viable. That’s why the Okongo Regional Office is still using water from the tank that we supply them from Eenhana town,” he said.

Lack of water has also restricted agricultural and industrial development in the region. But following the discovery of the Ohangwena Aquifer four years ago, Shilongo said the region is assured of water security in the near future.

“Since NamWater could not meet water demand in this region, and we really want to ensure universal access to potable water, as a regional council we believe that investing in the underground aquifer will be a permanent solution to shortage of potable water in the region,” Shilongo said.

The aquifer that flows across the borders with Angola is estimated to contain about 20 billion cubic metres of freshwater on the Namibian side. It stretches about 75km from the Ondobe constituency towards the east, and about 40 km from the Angolan border to the south.

And since the aquifer flows into Angola, the governments of Namibia and Angola have set up a Water Management Committee that meets on regular basis.

“Angola knows what is happening in Namibia and we know what is happening in Angola as Ohangwena underground aquifer is of concern and we are working together to carry a similar study on the Angola side and as well as in Botswana,” said Nehemiah.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry is exploring ways to enter into bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries for sustainable use of underground water sources, he said.

He attributed the acute water shortage in Namibia to insufficient capacity to carry out research into new potential sources and lack of development for new and existing water supply infrastructure.

Nehemia cautioned that it was imperative that Namibia developed alternative sources of water to the north and central regions of the country, other than depending on water from Kunene that is shared with Angola.

“Angola is busy putting up infrastructure and projects that require large quantities of water and as a ministry, we are concerned that in few years, there might not be enough water for all of us, that is why our main focus and priority is on underground water,” Nehemiah explained.

Developing the Ohangwena aquifer will be a mammoth and costly project that will not be done in five years and is estimated to cost around R10 billion. Nehemiah said the government was going to develop the aquifer in phases based on the budget available from treasury and development partners.

The successful exploitation of the aquifer is also in line with Goal 6 of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that emphasise that access to safe water and sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

It further recommends that ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires countries of the world to invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene at every level.

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