September 1, 2008

Namibia: Development of Uranium Mines Puts ‘Strain’ on Country’s Water Supply

Text of report by state-owned Namibian newspaper New Era website on 1 September

[Report by Charles Tjatindi: "Mining Puts Water Supply in Tight Squeeze"]


While Namibia largely benefits from uranium and other mining, these economic activities put a strain on the country's supply of vital services such as water.

In a presentation given recently by one of the country's foremost experts on water issues Piet Heyns, it came to light that the imminent development of uranium mines will require more than 80 million cubic meters of water, exceeding the current supply capacity by more than six times.

Heyns argues that it is therefore important to look at a more structured and integrated approach to water basin management in Namibia, and especially the requirements of the Erongo Region.

He was speaking at a recent meeting between the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Isak Katali, and the members of the Kuiseb Basin Management Forum here.

The Kuiseb Basin Management Forum was created in 2003 in anticipation of the promulgation of the new Water Resources Management Act, which encourages the establishment of such forums.

The formation of a basin forum for the Kuiseb river delta was a pilot project in Namibia and is aimed at impro-ving the management of water resources in the Kuiseb Basin.

One of the consultants hired by the Kuiseb Basin Forum, Dr Mary Seely of the Desert Research Foundation, noted that the forum intends to involve all other water schemes and authorities to ensure sustainable use of water resources.

"This new approach to water management aims to create a more integrated forum to enable us to plan, monitor and use water resources more effectively.

In view of the increasing demand for water in high development areas such as the coast and the newly established mines, there is an urgent need to revise our current water management approach to a more integrated solution."

Explaining the aim of his visit, Katali said it was important for him to familiarise himself with the Namibian water management systems in view of Namibia's participation in the international Water Expo being held in Zaragoza, Spain.

"This expo will showcase the different solutions and sustainable use of water resources applied in many different regions of the world. I like your ideas of a more integrated approach to water basin management, and would like to see you involve other water resource management groups of this sort."

The Erongo Region is experiencing a boom in uranium mining as a result of the phenomenal increase in the price of the commodity.

Low-grade deposits have become viable, and the investment regime in Namibia has made the country an attractive investment haven for many mining companies, the vast majority being foreign and junior companies.

Dr Seely confirmed that plans for a desalination plant are on track and will largely serve the water needs of the uranium mines, noting that "water from desalination processes is about eight times more expensive and is targeted at mines that can afford to pay for desalinated water".

According to the Engineer: Water Management of the Municipality of Walvis Bay, Andre Burger, the first desalination plant is currently being constructed north of Wlotszkasbaken along the Atlantic coast, while there are also unconfirmed reports that a second desalination plant is planned for north of Swakopmund in the Mile 6 area.

The state-owned water utility, NamWater, plans to build a desalination plant to cater for increasing demand for water from existing and planned uranium mines.

The facility will be built at a cost of N$1.5 billion. The plant is expected to be commissioned in 2010 and will have the capacity to pump 25 million cubic meters of water a year.

NamWater is building a desalination plant jointly with Uramin, which is expected to be commissioned at the end of 2009. The facility will have the capacity to pump 20 million cubic meters a year and serve Uramin's Trekkopje project.

Originally published by New Era website, Windhoek, in English 1 Sep 08.

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