Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Decentralizing water in Namibia

A well intended program in Namibia to hand over ownership of water supply may become a poverty trap.

The Namibian government has a program that is turning over operating water holes to local villages. Instead of the government providing the water for free, the villages pay a bill to local management. However, many people in Namibia have trouble keeping up with the costs, and say that those with livestock should pay more.

From this fascinating story from IPS, writer Servaas van den Bosch explains the water policy of the country.

Rural water supply - affecting half of Namibia’s 2 million people - touches on a sensitive apartheid legacy. The South African Water Act of 1956 tied water rights up with land tenure, thus restricting access to boreholes. Communal farmers received water for free, a policy that was designed - successfully - to create dependency on the regime. By repairing pumps and supplying diesel, the colonial government ensured loyalty from the rural population.

The main focus of the rural water supply reform programme, started in 1997, was cost-recovery of operation and maintenance of boreholes. Although ecological sustainability is mentioned in many policies, protection of resources seems secondary to the decentralisation process, say experts.

"The reform is meant to empower people by giving them ownership of the infrastructure, they will manage resources more sustainably", says Timo Katumye, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in Rundu.

Water Point Associations (WPAs) were started all over the country and formalised by the Water Resource Management Act of 2004. Under this legislation, water is still owned by the state, but the WPAs are responsible for collection of levies and repair of infrastructure. Of the 7731 communities using a water point, 5213 have established a WPA.

In Epingiro the government has invested in two, thousand-litre, plastic reservoirs to replace the open cement dam. The pump has been fixed and a wooden fence erected to keep the cattle from damaging the water point. The ‘rehabilitation’ is a sure sign that the facility will be ‘handed over’ soon. In Ministry jargon this means shifting all costs for the water supply to the WPA.

Pompa boy Hausiku Joseph is not sure what to think about that. First of all he wasn’t around when the villagers elected him as one of seven Water Point Committee members, the executive that runs the WPA. And although he gets the equivalent of $7 U.S. a month for this honour, the money is gathered as the need arises.

"We tell people to go cut grass for the thatching industry whenever we need money for the WPA", he says. Contributions are usually only made in the dry season. "As long as there is rain people won’t be bothered to pay."

He thinks the old colonial system worked better: "The South Africans used to pay for everything, this government should also provide water for free."

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