Where does the water in the basin come from?

The water comes from groundwater, ephemeral rivers and a perennial river. The water from the Kunene River, which originates from the Bie highlands in Angola and forms the northern border of the basin, is used for water supply and power generation. Three major ephemeral rivers (only flowing after heavy rains) and their tributaries (smaller rivers which flow into larger rivers) namely the Khumib, Hoarusib and Hoanib, join the westward flow towards the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the water supplied in the basin comes from groundwater sources, except for that used by people (especially the Himba community) living along the rivers. These people collect water directly from the river or through hand-dug wells and boreholes located near the river bed. Small dams constructed in the ephemeral watercourses supply water for stock drinking and game. Several excavation/earth dams are found in the basin and collect seasonal surface water, which is primarily used for livestock water supply. Although a dam is expensive to build, the water is free for people and livestock to use. The major disadvantages of earth dams are that they can only recharge water in one place and they are not good for storing water because they loose most of the water through evaporation. Springs are also important sources of water in the basin, especially at places such as Kaoko Otavi, Okandjombo, Otukaru, Purros, and Sesfontein. Hot springs have been identified at Warmquelle.

Who supplies and manages the water in the basin?

The institutions responsible for water resources are divided into the following categories for ensuring efficient and effective management there of:

• Overall water resource inventory, monitoring, control, regulation and management: Directorate of Resources Management within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF).

• Bulkwater supply: Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) abstracts water from primary sources (e.g. rivers, aquifers or dams) and supplies to some end-users directly.

• Self-providers: Commercial farmers, tour operators, mines and nature conservation (parks), subject to appropriate agreements and licences, supply their own water.

• Water supply to rural areas: Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation Coordination in the MAWF.

• Water supply to urban areas: Local Authorities and Regional Councils buy water from NamWater or supply water from the town’s own boreholes for delivery to end users.

The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia is the primary law for sustainable resource management and equal distribution of water to the people. Specific documents dealing with water management include the: Water and Sanitation Policy of 1993; Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) Act of 1997; National Water Policy White Paper of 2000; Water Act 54 of 1956 and Regulations, soon to be replaced by the Water Resources Management Act (2004) [which has not yet entered into force and is currently under revision] and the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Policy of 2008.

The Water Resources Management Act makes provision for the establishment of basin management committees (BMCs) to make sure that integrated management takes place at the basin level. The role of a BMC is to provide scope for addressing various issues affecting water resources in the basin, ranging from efficient water use to monitoring the health of the basin.

The aim of such a committee is to equip basin communities to take full ownership of their own development (through developing a strategic basin management plan) with strong support from the relevant service providers. The committee is ideal for knowledge and experience sharing to realize a common vision for the basin, based on IWRM principles such as stakeholder participation, transparency and information sharing. The process of establishing basin management committees is currently being implemented in phases and thus the Kunene Basin Management Committee is still pending, based on demand and priority assessments.


The supply of water from surface and groundwater resources to competing demands is prioritised in Namibia. The first priority is water for domestic purposes (including livestock water for both subsistence and commercial farming) and the second is water for economic activities such as mining, industries and irrigation.

Groundwater resources in the Kunene basin support the main town, Opuwo (estimated population of 6 400), settlements (estimated population of 1 100) and rural areas-estimated 32 700 people (mainly Himba people), livestock (mainly cattle and goats), crops, vegetation and wildlife (consisting primarily of game including elephants). The touristic attraction of the Epupa and Ruacana falls is huge and therefore the perennial river supports limited safari camps along the lower Kunene River. The Ruacana weir (a barrier which forces water to move in a certain direction) controls the flow of water and diverts it towards the Ruacana hydro-electric scheme. The force of the moving water at the Ruacana Falls is used to drive turbines which generate electricity for the entire country.

How to use water more efficiently through WDM

WWater demand management (WDM) is a very important part of IWRM. WDM aims to improve water use efficiency by reducing water losses or changing the wasteful way people use water. WDM is an approach to achieve „water use efficiency“. WDM is implemented through education and information; training; using economic and financial principles; water pricing and tariff policies (e.g. rising block tariffs) and technical measures.

The price of water supply services is determined by the cost to develop a water source; distance the water has to be transported by pipeline/canal; treatment costs; storage of treated water; pipelines to the consumer; and topography which determines the pumping cost to supply the water.

The consumer base and technology, i.e. household taps or pre-paid meters, that are affordable to various income groups, also have an effect on the cost of water. The ability of Local Authorities to enforce credit control measures also influences the cost of water.

Municipal costs to provide a household with water and sanitation services include charges for water collection from a source; water production (treatment of raw water to drinking water standards); water delivery to the consumer; and wastewater treatment and disposal. Wastewater collection and treatment contribute to hygienic environments and form part of the water chain to prevent pollution in order to ensure that good water quality and sanitation is achieved. Therefore it is essential that water consumers PAY for water services to ensure continued quality and efficient service delivery.

In rural areas, the community based water management programme under the Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation Coordination, established mechanisms for users to pay for water services. In addition, mechanisms for transparent and targeted subsidies for those who are unable to pay for water services are being considered. Local water point committees manage local aspects of water services, preventing problems such as illegal connections and vandalism to pipelines.

Different ways to save water in urban households:

1. Schedule garden watering for early or late in the day (before 10 am and after 4 pm).

2. Avoid the use of hosepipes for cleaning pavements, floors or cars; instead use buckets.

3. Make use of retrofits (replacement with equipment specifically designed to reduce water use) such as:

3.1 Low flush and dual flush cisterns that are being used more and more.
3.2 Reducing the volume of existing toilet cisterns can be achieved by:
• Placing a 1 to 2 litre plastic bottle filled with water, or a brick wrapped in plastic, inside the cistern. This will decrease the volume of water held within it.
• Bending the swimmer arm inside the cistern downwards so that the inflow valve is shut off when the water reaches a lower level than previously.

4. Fix or report to the municipality any moisture or leak problems immediately. Most water leaks occur from toilet cisterns. A single leaking toilet cistern can lose up to 7 000 litres of water per day.

5. Explore rain water harvesting (collection and storage of rain from run-off areas such as roofs) options. Remember - the first flush of new rain should be discarded, before collection starts

6. Keep track of water usage by regularly reading the water meters.


Water quality

The quality of water is determined by its aesthetics (colour, smell, turbidity), the chemical composition and the bacteriological content. There is a direct link between water quality and health and therefore it is important to be able to differentiate between safe and unsafe water sources. Water quality is determined by both natural and human-induced contaminants (pollutants) that may have found their way into the water supply. Naturally, water contains varying concentrations of dissolved oxygen and other gases, microscopic living organisms, tiny particles of dead decaying organic matter, inorganic salts and sediments. Most of the groundwater resources in the basin are of good quality, suitable for domestic, livestock and irrigation purposes. In some areas, water is reported to taste sweet, however in designated areas it is common knowledge that water is unsafe to drink, hence residents should take care.

The quality guidelines for drinking water have been set out by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Water Environment Division.

Groundwater monitoring is considered very important, not only to understand and identify water quality trends and related indicators, but also to determine the availability of acceptable quality water sources. The Geohydrology division in the MAWF is responsible for groundwater investigation and monitoring.
Many people in the basin are exposed to „dirty“ unsafe water from open wells and watercourses.

Dirty water can have a colour (yellow, brown or black), but it can also be clear and contain invisible bacteria or chemicals that are harmful to humans and animals. Therefore it is advisable to „clean/cook“ water before drinking it.

The following ways are used to clean water:

• Step 1: Remove dirt that you can see, through filtering by using a sieve wire or a dense cloth of material

• Step 2: Boil water or keep water in a clean container in the sun for two days

• Step 3: Store clean water in a clean container with a cover

Water sanitation and hygiene

Sanitation is vital for human health, generates economic benefits, contributes to dignity and social development, and protects the environment. Sanitation promotion focuses on stimulating demand for ownership and use of a physical good. Access to basic sanitation refers to access to facilities that hygienically separate human excreta from human, animal, and insect contact. Hygiene promotion focuses on changing personal behavior related to safe management of excreta, such as washing hands and disposing safely of household wastewater. Both are essential to maximize health benefits. Lack of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene cause water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and several parasitic infections. Provision has been made for both urban and sanitation management objectives and principles in the Water and Sanitation Sector Policy of 2008, to contribute towards improved health and quality of life.

Considering that Namibia is a water-scarce country, in most (rural and urban) instances, the most affordable individual household or community sanitation options are ecological or dry sanitation facilities. Where possible it should be left to individuals to decide on the most appropriate technological and payment options as well as maintenance responsibility allocation. The institutions responsible for water sanitation and hygiene are divided into the following categories:

• Public health issues and awareness: Ministry of Health and Social Services; Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation Coordination within the MAWF; Regional Councils and Local Authorities

• Health policies and legislation: Ministry of Health and Social Services

• Advice and research on alternative sanitation options and development: Habitat Research and Development Centre

Challenges of IWRM in the basin

The biggest threat to the water resources in the Kunene River basin is the increasing number of people, both local and tourists, domestic stock and wildlife. In particular, the basin is highly prone to the following challenges:

• Land degradation and deforestation: The topsoil of land contains valuable nutrients for vegetation to grow. When vegetation cover or trees are destroyed (either through high population growth or overgrazing due to high livestock concentrations in an area) the land becomes vulnerable and results in topsoil being easily blown away by wind. Increased run-off (rainwater not infiltrating in the soil) causes loss of agricultural productivity (soil fertility).

• Bush encroachment: Invader bushes are the highest single consumer of groundwater in the upper basin area, with detrimental long-term consequences on the sustainability of groundwater resources and fodder availability.

Due to the arid and highly variable climate in Namibia, water resource managers and users have to focus on improving efficiency of water resource use through improvement of water demand management practices.


Plans to develop a dam at the Baynes dam site to supplement hydro-electric power in Namibia is under investigation, taking into consideration environmental and social impacts. Potential agricultural, mining and tourism opportunities are identified on the Hoanib River, while irrigation schemes and a large dam are being investigated in the Hoarusib River area, close to Purros.

There is a growing economic and social importance of the desert-dwelling elephants in the basin, which requires improved elephant management (especially with regard to limiting movement near garden and water systems) for emerging and established conservancies in the basin. In addition, a potential Ramsar site (in accordance with the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance) is identified at the Kunene River mounth, but is not yet designated. Maintenance of rural water supply and livestock drinking points remains a challenge in the basin, due to sparse distribution of people.