Namibia sounds alarm as shared rivers dry up

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A drought in Namibia is causing water shortages.
A drought in Namibia is causing water shortages.
Alaister Russell/Gallo Images
  • Namibia's water security is at risk as main rivers run dry and upstream neighbours divert supplies.
  • Windhoek and surrounding central parts of Namibia have been worst affected by water shortages.
  • Namibia is sub-Saharan Africa's most arid climate and experiences high evaporation rates.
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Namibia's government has warned that the nation's water, energy, and food security is under threat because some of its main rivers have run dry due to drought, and its upstream neighbours diverting supplies.

"As we speak, the Orange river has dried up, the Kunene river has no water," Calle Schlettwein, the water minister, told lawmakers in Windhoek, the capital, on Thursday. "Our reliability on transboundary water is a serious risk."

Positioned between the Namib and Kalahari deserts, Namibia has sub-Saharan Africa's most arid climate and has unpredictable rainfall and high evaporation rates, resulting in a water deficit. The country shares borders with Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.

READ | 'Extraordinary' elephant that survived poaching dies in drought-hit Kenya

Perennial rivers that run along the country's northern and southern borders are far away from Windhoek and most of the other main towns, while challenges in distributing limited and unreliable supplies of groundwater are exacerbated by the fact that the sparse population is widely spread out.

'Aggressive approach'

The country will need to take an "aggressive approach" in talks with its neighbours to ensure it gets its fair share of water from shared rivers, Schlettwein said. "At the moment we are vulnerable."

Windhoek and the surrounding areas of central Namibia have been worst affected by the latest water shortages and the authorities have been battling to meet demand.

Supply to the city has been supplemented by tapping a deep underground aquifer and the government also plans to link dams situated in the south of the country to the central areas, but costs are an issue, according to Schlettwein.

The lack of water in the Kunene river has also curbed electricity supply, curbing output from the Ruacana hydropower plant, he said.

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