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Water crisis: It’s about Money, Perception, and Attitudes

Publishing Date : 17 August, 2015

Author : EDITOR

The crisis level we are at in terms of water spells beyond the blame game. It is worth noting that the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) has a plan of how they intend to address short –medium term effects of water scarcity albeit the public still in the dark about the stark reality that awaits in the near future. We have learnt that the power outages are also making it difficult to circulate water, seriously we are face a mammoth task…

We have spelt out the shortcomings of the WUC, the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, as well as government at large. It may help to now push for alternatives of how the water situation could better be addressed.

Just as an example retail shops are packing the shelves to the rafters with water bottles, this is an immediate solution for small scale use; some are selling water tanks for water storage and harvesting – it is also immediate and at a small scale.

We may find it difficult to focus on shooting the service provider in future; it is time we make sound proposals.  The rainy season is fast approaching, how can we best make use of the situation?  

Some areas of the country have been declared drought zones, and it’s clear that emergency stop-gap measures are necessary to ensure that taps will run for the next generation. But with growing populations, changes in climate patterns, and dwindling water resources, areas affected by drought need to focus on a wider range of policies to solve the water crisis. We should be wary not to deal with the immediate and rather with what may potentially confront us in future.

For instance Botswana is no stranger to drought conditions. But the fact that we have run out of dam sites and our underground water levels are worrisome, is an indication that our policies should be more forward looking and WUC will need a lot of help from stakeholders.

Prolonged water rationing or lack of it altogether may affect every aspect of daily life from food prices, to the retail industry, to schools. But without a plan to combat the current water rpoblems, generations to come might be inadequately prepared to remedy this crisis.

Documents reveal that what we have now can only take us to 2036! What about beyond this period? We have heard that the WUC will need billions of Pula to execute long term plans aimed at curbing the water crisis, but where could they come from?

Generally in Botswana, government is always the immediate answer when a quasi-institution like the WUC needs such money. But the figures far outweigh the national budget, and we are also aware that private sector funding of these kinds of projects has not been a successful terrain for Botswana. Examples are galore, including the failing Mmamabula Coal field. It is important to think beyond money and be real about the current situation.

Gaborone Dam is a failed project. Molatedi Dam is almost failing. While the other dams in the south are fast drying up. The only hope remains in the north where dam levels are promising. But again, the rate at which water is likely to be pumped from the north to the south means that water utilisation will go up and we may end up with dams in the north also reaching lower levels at a fast pace.

The North South Pipe line is also costing a lot of money because of frequent repairs, and it is likely that this is not solution enough to address the water problems in the south.

Billions of Pula will have to be made available to fund water infrastructure projects; and there is also need to shift public opinion on a number of issues. Reducing water consumption during is one thing; asking water users to change their lifestyle to conserve water is another.

We are aware of the complaints on social media and on public forums because of the ongoing water rationing.  Our reading informs us that long-term investment initiatives often face significant challenges  which are in three broad categories of financing, public perception, and attitudes.

The major challenge entails building the necessary water infrastructure – this is both time-intensive and costly. Government has other priority areas, reliable financing is often difficult to secure, as seen with WUC. They are finding it difficult to secure funding for most of their projects.

As a result, we are likely to see the costly long-term projects being pushed back in favor of short-term fixes, which will only last a leg’s length.

With public perception, it must be noted that Batswana are generally used to the steady stream of clean water running from their taps. Because that ethos is engrained in our culture - whether or not it is true for every local situation - solutions like use of recycled waste water are mostly unpopular.  

However we are not escaping this one - recycled water is crucial to our survival albeit the stigma over the technology.  For decades it has been successfully implemented in places like Singapore and Namibia.

Attitudes will also have to change. We may end up seeing the enactment of stringent conservation protocols, to deal with water misuse among other things. But there is need for more public education so as to promote and encourage the public to curb wasteful activity.



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