Diamond country drying up

As the countdown to Gaborone Dam drying up nears its ominous end, the dire water situation is not limited to the capital city alone.  The rest of the country is facing serious shortages of water to meet the demand of a population of just over two million as most of the dams are almost dry, according to dam level figures from the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC).

Owing to the generally below average rainfall experienced in the country during the past two rainy seasons and the subsequent drought occurrence, coupled with unsustainable water use, the water supply situation has drastically deteriorated.

According to the latest dams water levels, Gaborone Dam is at 16,8 per cent, Lotsane 7,2 per cent, Molatedi 18,5 per cent, Dikgatlhong 39,9 per cent Letsibogo 66,8 per cent, Shashe 75,6 per cent, Ntimbale 81,4 per cent, with both Bokaa and Nnywane having already dried up.

Botswana’s situation is echoed by international environmental conventions that suggest that most of the planet will face severe water shortage within a generation or two if population and waste production continues unabated. This was recently stressed said by experts at the ‘Bonn Declaration’ conference held in Germany mid this year.

It was revealed that currently an estimated third of the world’s seven billion people has limited access to adequate fresh water. Further to this, in the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the nine billion people on earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water. The nine billion mark is widely projected to be reached from about 2040.

An economist, Dr Emmanuel Botlhale of the University of Botswana said it is notable that access to water has varied benefits; social, economic and environmental.
In this regard, the Millennium Development Goal 7 (target c) on Ensure environmental sustainability states that it intends ‘to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 compared with 1990 levels’.

“On the eco front, water is an important factor in the production process. Amongst others, it is a driver of the economy and thus, modern economies will collapse in the face of chronic water challenges. Unfortunately, due to its arid climate and continual droughts, Botswana is grappling with a serious water challenge. The way it is, the matter should be elevated to a national security challenge so that it assumes pride of place in public discourse. Thus, it is imperative to address the challenge because most water sources, particularly dams, are almost dry,” he explained.

Moving forward, amongst others, Dr Botlhale said stringent water management, water conservation (including recycling) and looking for alternative sources can be followed. Also importantly, he mentioned that more public education is key so that users are conscious of  the matter so that they support the cause accordingly. “Controversially, pricing may have to be adjusted upwards,” he concluded.

As indicated in the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) study titled ‘Water pricing and Policy in Botswana’, the Draft National Policy of 2010 creates an impression that current water consumption, especially ground water consumption is sustainable. It is claimed that Botswana has an internal renewable annual water supply of approximately 2.5km3 per annum. The most recent estimates of consumption in the draft document suggest that total usage was 0.25km3/per annum in 2009.

“This means, if one accepts the official estimates of sustainability in the national water policy, that annual per capita water consumption has reached approximately 125m3 per capita, up from 94m3 per capita in the late 1990s. Approximately one third of this renewable water is the renewable recharge of ground water, which remains the principle source of water supply for most commercial and rural uses,” the study indicates.

It further reveals that almost all mines currently in operation in Botswana depend to a very large degree on ground water from boreholes at what is widely accepted as unsustainable rates. In Botswana, the general obligation of mine licenses in the past has been to procure their own water, which BIDPA says such a policy may have been appropriate when there were two or three large mines widely dispersed around the country and with relatively little obvious conflict between mining and other end users as was the case when the legislation was written in the immediate post independence era.

“But, within the expected growth of mining, it is highly unlikely to be sustained. In light of the fact that some of the areas where these new mines are located are very arid and existing boreholes and artesian supply is needed for agriculture, the current water policy with regards to mining and energy projects needs to be reconsidered. This is particularly so given that the experience at Orapa, Letlhakane and at Botswana Ash (Botash) has shown that underground water usage in mining has proven to be unsustainable,” Professor Roman Grynberg revealed in the study.

Asked as to how this crisis impacts on the mining companies, the mining giants Debswana Company says its operations are not directly dependent on surface water unlike most towns and villages along the eastern margins of Botswana. Water used at the operations is primarily from groundwater, pumped through wells licensed to the company.

Debswana spokesperson, Esther Kanaimba-Senai however, indicated that “although the company does not get water supply through WUC, the issues of water conservation and environmental considerations are fully embraced on our water management strategies which are developed in line with the national water policy, looking at aspects of supply and demand management and conservation. Debswana actively seeks new ways of reducing water intake by the operations, and to conserve water through various interventions such as water efficiency programmes, water loss management, water use awareness campaigns which are all the cornerstones of conservation.”

As per the company’s consumption per annum, she said in 2012, 49 per cent of the water used or just over 16 million cubic metres was groundwater, directly from well fields; 28 per cent or just over 8 million cubic meters was from Debswana’s Slimes Dams returns (recycling); 15 per cent was from dewatering its pits which makes about 4.8 million cubic meters; 9 per cent or 2.5 million cubic meters is from its pit sumps; 3 per cent or one million cubic meters from effluent and 1 per cent or just over 360, 000 cubic meters is storm water. “Our total consumption for 2012 was 33.7 million cubic metres,” Kanaimba-Senai said.

“We have a number of water management options aimed at sustaining aquifers such that when one level goes down we suspend drawing from it so it replenishes. So we can sustain our water sources through life of mine,” she highlighted.
Botash also indicated that there is no direct impact on its operations. However, there is tariff pressure going forward as WUC anticipates further shortages in the future. Botash Communications Manager, Carol Mabua said; “Botash’s annual potable water consumption average from the past 11 years was 270, 984 kilo liters, which translates to a cost of P410, 000. 00 per annum at the current tariff of P 1.50 per kilo liters.” She further added that they do not get any subsidies on utilities from government.