Surviving drought: Namibia’s Erongo Desalination Plant to convert seawater to freshwater

Erongo - climateaction

Surviving drought: Namibia’s Erongo Desalination Plant to convert seawater to freshwater

Namibia, with a population of over 2.58 million, is grappling with a national water crisis due to severe droughts.

In the 2018/19 rainy season, the country only received about 50% or less of average seasonal rainfall (one of the driest since 1981) thereby posing serious constraints to its economic, environmental, and social development agenda. This caused the government to declare a drought state of emergency in 2019.

However, with another water crisis hitting the Northern Regions of the country in January 2022, it is forced to rely more on unconventional water resources such as desalination to improve its water supply.

The country is currently constructing a second Erongo Desalination Plant at a cost of $165 million to convert seawater to freshwater in order to salvage the situation.

The plant is expected to produce 70,000 cubic meters of water daily and will be part of an integrated water supply system for the Central Coastal Areas and the hinterland.

In addition to seawater desalination, Namibia reuses its treated wastewater to supply its population with drinking water. This alternative, which is now unavoidable, has been practiced in the country for over 50 years.

Existing Erongo Desalination Plant

Operated by the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater), the Erongo Desalination Plant is the largest reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant in southern Africa and has become an important contributor to the overall supply of the potable water delivery system managed by NamWater.

It was originally built for the French uranium mining company, Areva Resources Namibia, now Orano. The plant, which is located 35km north of Swakopmund, supplied 12 million m3 of drinking water to NamWater each year as of 2021, compared to 20 million m3 per year when it was commissioned.

Water from the Erongo desalination plant is mostly sold to mines and industries located outside the coastal towns.

According to NamWater, the Erongo region’s water demands for the communities and the mines currently stand at about 20 million cubic meters per annum but can be increased to 45 million cubic meters a year over the medium to long term.

Namibia aims for 100% water access by 2030 and had acquired a $121.7 million loan and €3 million grant from the AfDB Rural Water Supply Sanitation Initiative Trust Fund in 2020 to support its Water Sector Support Programme.

The Water Sector Support Programme which is to be implemented over five years aims at facilitating sustainable production and transfer of water resources to improve access to potable water and for agricultural and industrial use. It also seeks to enhance sanitation in rural areas and enrich institutional capacity, sustainable management, and utilization.

It particularly seeks to increase access to sustainable water services from the current level of 85% and sanitation services from 54% to the universal 100% target by 2030.

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