What Wind­hoek can teach Cape on cop­ing with drought

Namib­ian cap­i­tal has strict wa­ter us­age pro­to­cols be­cause of low an­nual rain­fall

African Independent - - NEWS - DIAN SPEAR

UMAN pop­u­la­tion growth, ur­ban­i­sa­tion, and cli­mate change are chang­ing the world. To adapt, at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour must change and un­sus­tain­able at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours must shift.

In ad­di­tion, the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal will to im­ple­ment tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions must in­crease. With­out these changes, the world will con­tinue to be vul­ner­a­ble to the im­pact of cli­mate change and the over-use of limited re­sources like wa­ter.

Pop­u­la­tions in cities are grow­ing, putting pres­sure on re­sources like wa­ter. This is likely to in­crease as cli­mate change leads to more fre­quent and ex­treme droughts, par­tic­u­larly in south­ern Africa.

For decades Namibia’s cap­i­tal city, Wind­hoek, has faced se­ri­ous chal­lenges pro­vid­ing wa­ter for its cit­i­zens. Wa­ter is a pre­cious com­mod­ity in the city which gets a mean an­nual rain­fall of 360mm. In com­par­i­son, Los An­ge­les re­ceives about 380mm ev­ery year. In ad­di­tion, evap­o­ra­tion lev­els are high and the clos­est peren­nial river, the Or­ange river, is 750km away. And the city’s pop­u­la­tion has grown.

Even though they have dif­fer­ent weather pat­terns, there’s a lot that a city like Cape Town, which is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst drought in 100 years, can learn from Wind­hoek and how the city has con­quered mul­ti­ple wa­ter crises.

Wind­hoek, which is dry and gets a summer rain­fall, has proved tech­nol­ogy can come to the res­cue. But tech­nol­ogy alone is not the so­lu­tion. Wa­ter man­age­ment has his­tor­i­cally been engi­neer-based with a fo­cus on tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions.

A change in cul­ture around per­cep­tions of wa­ter use formed a ma­jor part of Wind­hoek’s ef­forts. And learn­ing from others can help to save wa­ter.

Cape Town has dif­fer­ent weather pat­terns to Wind­hoek. The city has a Mediter­ranean cli­mate with wet win­ters and warm dry sum­mers. It usu­ally gets over 500mm per an­num, has a lower evap­o­ra­tion rate and a num­ber of rivers within a 150km ra­dius of the city. These in­clude the Breede, Oli­fants and Berg rivers.

Cape Town’s cur­rent wa­ter cri­sis fol­lows two con­sec­u­tive years of low rain­fall in catch­ment ar­eas. This has been in con­junc­tion with an in­crease in the size of the city’s pop­u­la­tion.

Even though the cities have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, Cape Town should con­sider the ac­tions taken by Wind­hoek, which stretch back over the last 50 years.

Namibia has suf­fered a suc­ces­sion of droughts over the past

H40 years. But by the time of a ma­jor drought in 1996 the city had built three reser­voirs and a waste-wa­ter re­use plant. On top of this, wa­ter sup­ply reg­u­la­tions were be­ing strictly en­forced. These in­cluded:

A pub­lic aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion campaign.

Wa­ter con­trol of­fi­cers and me­ter read­ers ac­tively re­duc­ing wastage on pri­vate prop­er­ties and en­forc­ing wa­ter­ing times, the cov­er­ing of pools and wa­ter sav­ing equip­ment like low flow show­ers.

Fix­ing leaks and the re­duc­tion of wa­ter use on mu­nic­i­pal gar­dens.

These in­ter­ven­tions had last­ing ef­fects. Af­ter the drought, res­i­dents re­duced their garden sizes and changed garden types and ir­ri­ga­tion meth­ods. There was also a move to build houses in new sub­urbs that had smaller gar­dens. Changes were also made to in­dus­trial pol­icy: no new de­vel­op­ment of wa­ter in­ten­sive in­dus­tries like Coca-Cola was al­lowed.

Dur­ing the 1990s there was an in­crease in the ca­pac­ity of the waste-wa­ter re­use plant and con­sid­er­a­tion was given to recharg­ing Wind­hoek’s aquifer. Stor­ing wa­ter un­der­ground was an at­trac­tive op­tion. More wa­ter was evap­o­rat­ing from wa­ter reser­voirs than was be­ing used by the city.

By 2002, the new Gore­angab waste­water treat­ment plant was com­pleted with the aim of pro­vid­ing potable wa­ter. By 2004, four bore­holes were equipped for aquifer recharge with treated sur­face wa­ter – a process of pump­ing treated wa­ter from above ground into the aquifer.

But last year, wa­ter stor­age lev­els be­came very low again and im­me­di­ate ac­tion needed to be taken. Se­vere wa­ter re­stric­tions were im­posed on res­i­dents and in­dus­tries like Coca-Cola stopped pro­duc­tion. Abat­toirs had to cut down on pro­duc­tion and there were job losses in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

The City of Wind­hoek ac­ti­vated its drought man­age­ment plan, which in­cluded:

Set­ting in­creas­ing wa­ter sav­ing tar­gets. A pro­gres­sive in­crease in tar­iffs. Cut­ting off the wa­ter sup­ply to big users.

Rapidly im­ple­ment­ing ab­strac­tion from the aquifer.

On top of this, the coun­try’s Pros­per­ity Plan for 2016 pri­ori­tised the de­vel­op­ment of wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. In par­tic­u­lar, recharg­ing Wind­hoek’s aquifer and sea­wa­ter de­salin­i­sa­tion were iden­ti­fied as ar­eas for im­me­di­ate ac­tion.

Cape Town also has wa­ter sav­ing goals and wa­ter re­stric­tions plans. These in­clude pump­ing wa­ter out of aquifers, con­struct­ing de­salin­i­sa­tion plants and build­ing more wa­ter treat­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The pro­posed plans are in line with ac­tions that have been suc­cess­ful in pro­vid­ing wa­ter to Wind­hoek.

Wind­hoek hasn’t al­ways got it right. De­spite at­tempted pub­lic aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns, a ma­jor crit­i­cism has been the city’s fail­ure to sus­tain a pub­lic aware­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tion campaign – par­tic­u­larly when there isn’t a per­ceived wa­ter cri­sis.

This has meant that tar­gets for wa­ter use haven’t al­ways been met. There’s a les­son in this for Cape Town. The fact that there’s been a slow re­sponse by res­i­dents to re­duc­ing their wa­ter use could mean that more com­mu­ni­ca­tion, aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion is needed.

People won’t save wa­ter un­less they per­ceive the need to do so. In Wind­hoek, about 60% of the wa­ter used is used by pri­vate house­holds. Around 50% of this is used for gar­dens. This means that changes in house­hold con­sump­tion can play a ma­jor role in wa­ter sav­ing.

Other steps that can be taken in­clude in­creas­ing aware­ness by teach­ing wa­ter con­ser­va­tion in schools. In times of cri­sis, Wind­hoek is a good ex­am­ple of how rais­ing aware­ness can play an im­por­tant role in cop­ing with wa­ter scarcity. Cape Town needs to fol­low suit. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

• Dian Spear is South­ern Africa lead, Adap­ta­tion at Scale in SemiArid Re­gions, Univer­sity of Cape Town

OLDER AND WISER: Wind­hoek has de­vel­oped a wa­ter us­age plan over the years of suf­fer­ing from a short­age of wa­ter.

PIC­TURE: COLIN BROWN

WA­TER CRI­SIS: Cape Town’s wa­ter stor­age fa­cil­i­ties are run­ning low.

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