Former Swapo Party Youth League leader Elijah Ngurare has hit the ground running since his appointment earlier this year as director of water supply and sanitation coordination in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform. New Era caught up with him to get insights on the water situation in the country.
NE: One of your first trips, just a few months into your new job as director of water supply and sanitation coordination, was to Kunene region, why Kunene?
EN: It had been reported at the time that two sisters narrowly escaped death when a traditional water well collapsed on them. A bystander saw what happened and called for help from the community. That was how the two sisters were dug out. They were from the Tjambiru household of the Kakurukouje Traditional Authority in Etanga. We, therefore, decided to travel there, and convey best wishes from the minister, deputy minister, executive director and indeed the entire management of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform. I was accompanied by our DWSSC colleagues from Kunene region. Our undertaking to the community of Etanga was that, in a free and independent Namibia, no little girl should ever have to risk their life in search for water. We would do all as a ministry to ensure that this is done.
Fortunately, in partnership with FAO Namibia, we had already started to experiment with a technology of converting traditional wells into modern water sources with the financial support of the government of Korea. The first visit to Kunene, in those early days, was therefore to ensure that water is delivered to the community of Etanga and the surrounding villages. I am pleased to report that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform had since finished installation of the borehole at the nearby school in Etanga, within walking distance of the two girls’ household. We are left with the traditional well. An interesting discovery we found is that many rural communities have a belief that water from the traditional wells are better in terms of reproduction of their livestock. It is not the debate of whether this is scientifically proven, but it is a customary belief in some communities.
We have also discovered that converting traditional wells present some challenges of ownership. In this regard, we have requested the support of GIZ to assist us with piloting some of these traditional wells in Kunene, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Kavango West. The objective is to consult with traditional authorities and communities on which traditional wells can be ceded for use of communities. In other words, we wish to compile an inventory of the traditional wells all across the country. We will carry out this exercise with a few unemployed graduates with possible collaboration with Unam’s JEDS Campus.
NE: In June you were on familiarisation visits to //Kharas, Hardap, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa and Kunene regions. What have you found?
EN: I started in March 2020 and as you know shortly thereafter the Covid-19 pandemic struck. My orientation was therefore part of what has become the new normal. After the lockdown, I requested from our executive director and was granted permission to conduct familiarisation visits to our regional offices and meet with our stakeholders and to assess the situation of rural water supply and sanitation across the country. I was accompanied by resourceful colleagues of DWSSC, namely an engineer and administrative experts to assist in addressing issues in various regions and communities.
Our first such visit was to the Bondelswarts Traditional Authority in the Karasburg constituency after making a courtesy call to the governor of //Kharas region. We also met with traditional authorities from Berseba, Bethanie, Vaalgras and Blouwes. Their valuable input was an excellent guide to how we should respond to the challenges of water supply and sanitation coordination in their communities.
We found that a lot has been done in terms of government investment in the water sector. We also found that there are a lot of areas for improvement, especially in terms of further support for procurement of materials, for maintenance of existing infrastructure, provision of transport and coordination in terms of sharing of expertise by various constituencies and regions. We also found that regional councils are providing valuable support in the supply of water to rural communities. This is particularly so because DWSSC is a decentralised function to regional councils.
Above all, in most regions we visited, I found committed civil servants who are ready to deliver service in their areas of jurisdiction. The maintenance and extension services are a gem in terms of in-house expertise, which government should be very proud to have and nurture. With regular training, they are capable of making government shine all year around.
NE: You also visited Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Kavango West and Kavango East between July and August. What is your impression of the situation on the ground?
EN: One of the highlights of the visits to these regions was in Oshikoto region. We were met by a full house. The governor, councillors, CRO and senior officials of the Oshikoto Regional Council. Councillors expressed first-hand the challenges faced by their constituencies, especially Okankolo, Eenghodi and Nehale LyaMpingana, for example. Another highlight was when we visited the councillor of Mpungu constituency in Kavango West. We learned that of the villages in the region that don’t have water, the majority were from his constituency.
Our impression of the situation on the ground, therefore, is that challenges are real and we have the duty to deliver solutions. The mission and vision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform is clear on delivering potable water to rural communities. Several interventions in this regard are underway.
It was commendable to observe that many communities in the regions have been doing their part in water and sanitation functions. It is hoped that this would be the norm for communities all over the country.
NE: In the past we had reports about the water struggles at places such as Amarika. How is the situation there now?
EN: Indeed, this matter had been topical earlier in the year. Subsequently, the minister directed that we urgently find a solution to it. We worked together with our colleagues from the department of land reform to provide water to the community. Consultations are also at an advanced stage on the traditional wells to be modernised once the community grants us permission.
NE: Water provision is linked to the availability of infrastructure such as roads. How do you see cooperation with other ministries affecting your services?
EN: It is very true that without road infrastructure, it is difficult for the supply of water to be realised sustainably. I think, and fortunately so, other ministries are also aware of this and I have no doubt that rural feeder roads particularly, are being prioritised by the Ministry of Works and Transport. Thus, it is a good coordination which will be most helpful to us in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.
As an example of cooperation with other ministries, recently, we were at Otjomuru village in Epupa constituency to replace a water pump. The school was founded by former deputy prime minister Dr Libertina Amathila. When we got there, we realised that Nored’s presence was critical. The Ministry of Mines and Energy assisted to facilitate the availability of electricity so that water could be pumped to the Otjomuru Primary School. We were able to speak to the CEO of Nored and his support was immensely helpful. Our strength as a government is in cooperation and synergy. After all it is one government and one Namibia.
NE: After the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, Cabinet declared that schools must be provided with water and sanitation facilities. The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture has requested assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform to provide water to about 193 schools. How is that going?
EN: It is our belief that Covid-19 has provided unique challenges to the education sector as it did to all other sectors of the economy as well as to us in the water sector. These challenges should and can be turned into opportunities. Therefore when we offered to assist in the provision of water provision to 193 schools we did it because DWSSC has the capacity through its maintenance and extension services to carry out this function. Regrettably, there was a slight delay in completing this assignment but thanks to the support of our director general of the National Planning Commission, ED of education, ED of National Planning Commission, ED of finance and our ED in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, the process is back on track and we have set ourselves a target to complete all schools by this December 2020.
NE: Anything else you wish to add?
EN: I can confidently say that the capacity exists in government to respond to water challenges in all 14 regions and 121 constituencies. During the familiarisation visits we received a lot of useful input and good ideas. However, good ideas or good plans are not helpful if they are not implemented. We will therefore invest a lot of energy and resources to implement and to provide solutions. We are also keen to embark upon flood and rain water harvesting in earnest.
Thankfully the government has recently secured the approval for the implementation of the African Development Bank’s funded Namibian Water Sector Support Program (NWSSP). With it, we will do more in terms of water infrastructure both in urban and rural areas. We are also grateful to the support we are receiving from NamWater, Unicef, EU, FAO, GIZ, EIF amongst others in our mandate of providing potable water to rural communities and on resettlement farms all over the country.