Chobe Zambezi dream moves closer to reality

Tapping the source: The world famous quadripoint, where the Chobe meets the Zambezi, will supply nearly 500 million cubic metres of water each year across the country PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Tapping the source: The world famous quadripoint, where the Chobe meets the Zambezi, will supply nearly 500 million cubic metres of water each year across the country PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Thirteen years after neighbouring countries agreed that Botswana could withdraw nearly 500 million cubic metres of water each year from the Zambezi, local water authorities are close to starting spadework on a multi-billion project that represents the country’s future water supply. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports

All the dams that can plausibly be built in the country, have already been built, says Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) CEO, Gaselemogwe Senai.

At present and forecast rates of consumption, these dams are sufficient to supply the country until about 2029, after which point new sources of water need to come in and carry consumers into the future.

At localised level, the debate over tapping into groundwater and recycled wastewater has been running for some years and is at different levels of progression. However, crossborder water schemes remain the more viable (and costlier) supply option for national consumption, which includes anchoring the country’s industrialisation agenda, expansion of the mining sector and population growth.

The crossborder schemes, which include negotiations with riparian rights partners, include the Lesotho Highlands Project, the plan to draw water from the Atlantic Ocean in Namibia and the Chobe Zambezi water transfer scheme, which taps into the waters near the Kazungula Bridge area.

Of the crossborder schemes, the most impactful in terms of its spread across the country will be the Chobe Zambezi water transfer scheme, which will draw water from the famous quadripoint at Kazungula where the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet.

Thirteen years ago, the neighbouring countries agreed to let Botswana draw 495 million cubic metres of water per annum to cater for its future water needs. Local water authorities want the water to firstly irrigate commercial agriculture at Pandamatenga, which is being developed as the country’s breadbasket, before supplying areas ranging from Nata, Maun, Selebi Phikwe, Serowe/Palapye and down to the Greater Gaborone area.

Hundreds of kilometres of pipelines will have to be built, together with pump stations and other infrastructure, in order to connect the Chobe Zambezi waters to existing pipelines such as the North South Carrier. The project’s scale will be the country’s single most important national water development, with conservative but outdated estimates suggesting costs could top P16 billion.

A draft feasibility study dating back to 2010 recommended a pipeline of up to 520 kilometres, pump stations and other infrastructure and gave details on the capital and operating costs of that option. WUC is currently engaging a transactional advisor who will finalise a detailed bankable feasibility study for the project.

Such a study would then help package the project for investors’ consideration as a Public Private Partnership.

“Any infrastructure project has implications on tariffs and hence implications on customers because they are the ones who have to pay the tariff,” Senai explains.

“Water pricing is essential and we have to do a detailed study to assess the impact of the project on customer affordability.

“We have to look at whether the customers will be able to pay and the position of government to support or subsidise the customer.

“These are very expensive projects which if not subsidised would really bring a considerable knock on the customer.”

The pricing of the water due to come out of the Chobe Zambezi is critical. The plan to draw water from the Atlantic Ocean is proceeding much slower than the Chobe Zambezi largely because of the complexity of pricing water which has to travel 1,400 kilometres from a desalination plant, over all types of terrain between Namibia and Botswana and connect to local pipelines before reaching Gaborone.

The Atlantic Ocean project involves pumping water from sea level at Swakopmund to Windhoek which sits 1,112 metres above sea level, then across two deserts, the Namib and the Kalahari, through a series of reservoirs, pump stations and other infrastructure. Water authorities in both countries are trying to ensure that the water that eventually comes out in Gaborone does not turn out to be too costly for consumers and the economy.

The Chobe Zambezi scheme enjoys the technical and financial support of partners such as the African Development Bank, as well as tomes of research that have already been done into the idea.

The first test of the project’s economics will be the shorter pipeline to supply the Pandamatenga commercial farms, which are located just over 100 kilometres from the Kazungula. At Pandamatenga, the Chobe Zambezi waters will feed the Zambezi Agro Commercial Development Project, which Agriculture Minister, Karabo Gare recently said was starting in earnest this year.

The agro project, which has been allocated P5 million in this year’s budget, will comprise 40,000 hectares of irrigated commercial farms, featuring various crops and associated agro-processing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security minister, Lefoko Moagi told Parliament this week that the extension of the North West Transmission grid to cover Pandamatenga was being finalised. The extension will provide power for the agricultural and water developments taking place in the area, while reducing the crossborder supplies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Like the Chobe Zambezi water transfer scheme, the Zambezi Agro Commercial Development Project has been in the works for years, since at least 2010, while the extension of the North West Transmission grid is a relatively recent initiative.

Farmers in Pandamatenga are eagerly awaiting the various developments to take place, as they look to optimise value from their activities in the area.

“Leafy vegetables require a lot of water,” Pandamatenga Farmers Association chairman, Ryan Neal told Mmegi recently.

“Because of the climate in Pandamatenga, for one to go into horticulture it would require a strong irrigation system.

“Erecting an irrigation system for commercial horticulture would be very expensive and going into horticulture in the Pandamatenga area is cost-prohibitive.”

Water authorities expect that the Chobe Zambezi water transfer scheme will be among the priorities of the upcoming National Development Plan 12, securing the country’s water security from 2029 and beyond for at least 50 years.

Editor's Comment
Happy Independence!

We are 56 years old and what do we have to show for it? Looking at where Botswana started and where it is today, there are a lot of developments, but whether the developments match the number of years we have enjoyed as a country is a topic for another day.The fact that cannot be denied is we have seen major developments, but we are still lacking in several pertinent areas.Our beautiful country imports almost everything. We import fuel, food,...

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