400-years worth of water found under Namibia
Water is a precious commodity in Namibia, particularly for indigenous nomadic people eking out a living with their herds over vast stretches of desert or semi-desert.
Now water supply problems in the south-west African country could come to an end, after the discovery of a huge underground aquifer by German water engineers in the Cuvelai-Etosha basin in the north of the country.
They estimate the aquifer could supply the area with clean water for 400 years, at the current level of consumption.
Martin Quinger, who heads the project run by the German institute for geoscience and natural resources (BGR), said they had found 5 billion cubic metres of water on the northern border with Angola, at a depth of more than 200 metres.
“The quantity of stored water corresponds to consumption of more than 400 years in the densely settled northern region, according to extremely conservative calculations,” Quinger said. However, he said research would have to be done into the rate of replenishment.
The discovery was made in conjunction with the Namibian Ministry for Agriculture, Water and Forestry. They aim to provide access to drinking water for the entire north of the country, where around half of its 2 million inhabitants live.
The groundwater supply, which is thought to be more than 10,000 years old, is reported to be of top quality and to originate from higher-lying regions of Angola. It lies beneath a 100-metre thick impervious layer.
“This layer has to be broken through to access the underground water,” the engineers said. The water is under so much pressure that it rises to around 20 metres above ground level, which makes it inexpensive to extract.
According to Quinger, this type of aquifer deep below the surface is hardly affected by changes in the weather. Even several years of drought will have no influence on the supply from a reservoir so deep underground.
To the Namibian government, the find means much more than clean drinking water for the local population. In the future, the supply could be used not only to supply water to the extensive herds of animals, but also to promote agriculture.
This would fit with government aims for self-sufficiency. In addition, it could counter a trend for people to leave the countryside for the city, which has caused problems primarily for the capital, Windhoek.
The discovery could completely change the prospects for the Himba nomads living in the north-western region around the Kunene River.
Water has long been a dry-season problem for these pastoralists who keep goats and cattle. They have recently been hit by a severe drought.
They are also hoping that the find will put a stop to a controversial dam project at the Epupa Falls. The project has been under discussion since the 1970s, and opposed by the Himba ever since.
The dam would flood the tribe’s grazing lands, along with the graves of their ancestors, severely impacting their religious ceremonies.