Monday, July 6, 2020

Understanding water dynamics in Botswana

Water shortage in Gaborone and surrounding areas has become a brutal reality that many citizens are resigned to. Over the last few years, water rationing has become the order of the day. The southern parts of the country depend solely on the North South Water Carrier pipeline to pump water from the Shashe and Dikgathong Dam in the north. However, on many occasions, the southern parts of Botswana have been subjected to prolonged dry spells largely due to incessant power cuts occasioned by breakdowns at Morupule B power station and pipe bursts along the NSC.

Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) has resorted to water rationing while launching an alarmist media campaign with the slogan “Botswana o a kgala” (Botswana is drying up) in a bid to spread the message of water conservation in Botswana.

At a Southern African Development Community (SADC) water week conference last week, a representative from the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) blatantly told attendants that “Gaborone Dam has failed.”

Since it was constructed decades ago, the 141,100 mega litres Gaborone Dam has been quenching the thirst of the residents of Gaborone and surrounding areas without fail. Those were the years of bumper rains in Botswana. But now the weather patterns have changed and the southern parts of the country are receiving very minimal rains. Gaborone Dam has now been rendered obsolete due to the steady decline in rainfall amounts over the years.

It is important for Batswana to understand the dynamics around the country’s water situation; its geographical location, socio economic factors and the need to revert to traditional water conservation methods which were in practice before the advent of our majestic Letsibogo, Thune and Dikgathong Dams, the new technological irrigation systems and the NSC II.

Presenting on ‘Water Problems in Africa’ at the on-going Union of African Journalist Media Training workshop in Cairo, Egypt Dr Khaled Abou Zeid said there are quite a number of available water resources in Africa, most of which are concentrated in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Of all the water available in the world, said Dr Abou Zeid, only three percent is useable fresh water. Ice caps and glaciers make up 69 percent, ground water makes up 30 percent while all the lakes, swamps and rivers account for only 0.3 percent of the earth’s fresh water resources. Sea water on its own is not fit for human consumption and other uses.

“Through agriculture, recreational, household and industrial uses, humans consume a substantial portion of the three percent usable water than any other beings that roam the earth,” said Dr Abou Zeid.

However, because of the vastly unequal distribution of water, most African nations including Botswana end up facing problems of serious water shortage. Availability of water is primarily dependant on the financial muscle of the country and the availability of resources to clean and transport the water to the people.

The world over, 145 countries share basins; there are 263 trans-boundary basins, 60 of which are in Africa. There are also 318 trans-boundary aquifers, 58 of which are in Africa. In a trans-boundary basin, the water source passes through at least one or more political border or country and an aquifer is a body of a permeable rock which can contain and/or transmit water. Botswana draws water from the Zambezi basin which is formed from the Zambezi River, the fourth longest river in Africa, and flows eastwards for approximately 3000km into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi forms a border between Namibia and Botswana; and continues South East into the Okavango flowing into Lake Makgadikgadi. Botswana also has the Okavango and Limpopo basins which provide a lot of water for farming through irrigation.

Depending on the source, storage and composition, there are different types of water that can be used for human consumption. First there is green water, which comes into existence when rainfall filters through the earth’s surface and remains in the soil. It is considered the largest fresh water resource and also regarded as crucial to agriculture for purposes of global food production. The entire meat production from grazing is entirely dependent on this green water. There is a famous statement which goes: “Green water is entirely ignored by engineers because they cannot pump it, by economists because they cannot price it and by most governments because they cannot tax it.” It is entirely natural and is provided and affected by precipitation and evaporation. It has also proven to be instrumental in most agricultural practices.

More focus is usually channelled towards blue water, also known as surface water. This is constituted by all the rain water that does not go into the soil but enters the rivers, lakes, ground water and manmade storage facilities like dams. Then there is the grey water, this is waste water that has been recycled, cleaned and treated. Grey water is primarily used for agricultural and industrial purposes. In most instances, grey water is not fit for human consumption. Silver water, despite the glamorous connotation, is merely desalinated. This is usually sea water that is passed through a process of desalination (removal of salt). It is a very costly yet common method of purification in countries like Egypt which don’t have much green and blue water.

With approximately 10 dams built over the years, Botswana is still grappling with serious water shortage that is perpetuated by climate change. Because of climate change and the resultant high temperatures, Botswana experiences high rates of evaporation and less precipitation, which leads to prolonged drought periods.

Botswana has been hardest because it is landlocked and largely composed of the Kalahari Desert. At the same time, Botswana’s economy is dependent on minerals, and mining activity uses a lot of water. Therefore it is imperative for Batswana to change their attitudes towards the use of water in their households and possibly revert back to traditional water conservation methods.

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