‘Free water’ costs hundreds of millions

Otis Daniels_Finck
Windhoek • [email protected]

The provision of free water to vulnerable communities in informal settlements since April 2020, has almost doubled the debt of municipalities, town councils and settlements to NamWater until 31 December 2021.

Information provided by NamWater's head of strategy and new business development, Kadiva Hamutumwa, indicates that nationwide water debt increased by N$275.1 million during the period. In total, local authorities owe the national water carrier more than N$564.9 million.

Specifically, municipalities now owe NamWater N$145.5 million - almost N$100 million more than on 31 March 2020 when the debt stood at N$46.9 million.

Hamutumwa's figures show that NamWater was able to collect 98% of the relevant debt in 2019, 100% in 2020 and 95% in 2021.

Village councils could only pay off 80% of their water debt in 2020 and only 50% last year. Smaller villages find repayment even more difficult, with 85% of debt paid in 2019, compared to 58% in 2020 and only 30% last year. Village councils’ combined debt has grown by N$154.2 million and currently stands at N$346.8 million, while settlements have built up N$22.3 million more debt for water, which now stands at N$72.6 million.

Settlements that owe the most are Berseba, Tses and Witvlei; the town councils that are most in arrears include Rundu, Katima, Otavi, Rehoboth and Okakarara. In terms of municipalities, Swakopmund and Keetmanshoop are among the major debtors, while the Windhoek has the largest debt to NamWater.

Windhoek's mayor said earlier this year that the capital owes N$90 million to NamWater and asked residents the question of whether the municipality should cut off water supply until the debt can be paid. This followed a city council resolution in their last meeting of 2021 to suspend such supply by the end of February.

Mayor Sade Gawanas’ latest post on social media last week reads: “I am not prepared to be the mayor who cuts off water for our most vulnerable in society. I will get involved until I have a compliant plan, and consult council. My heart is not there, nor my mind or spirit. That is why we continue to get involved and find a better situation for the water issue.”

Asked about a solution, she said: “The solution here is not to summarily cut off all water access completely, but to consult and involve all stakeholders, since the decision to cut off was made last year. We can ask the management committee not to implement the decision until all options have been exhausted,” she replied.

The Ministry of Urban and Rural Development is the stakeholder that everyone is looking to for a solution. Executive director Daniel Nghidinua confirmed this month that the ministry had paid almost N$12.5 million to the City of Windhoek in 2020 for the first three months of free water, after the minister instructed all local authorities to do so after the outbreak of Covid-19.

Other local authorities were similarly compensated for the free water supply, he says. “Central government appreciates the cooperation and role played by local authorities, regional councils and NamWater in ensuring access to water and the ministry remains committed to mobilizing resources to cover the costs,” he said. “However, it depends on the availability of money. Abuse and waste of water must be stopped. Furthermore, those who can pay for water, must do.”

NamWater's Hamutumwa says the current state of affairs is unsustainable and that infrastructure development and the replacement of obsolete infrastructure currently cannot continue unless payments for the water are received.

Furthermore, operating costs are hampered and without a solution, the institution will not be able to fulfil its mandate much longer, she said.