Suggestions for long term water supply in Botswana

Gasping: Gaborone Dam is not expected to fill up any time soon
Gasping: Gaborone Dam is not expected to fill up any time soon

First and foremost, allow me to thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to forward my commonsense water supply suggestions through your paper.

As the debate of water supply shortage in Botswana ranges on, and there is more and more need to find not only a temporary solution but also a long term and permanent one, mind I remind all and sundry that necessity is the mother of all inventions. Faced with such a persistent challenge, it is time we set ourselves a collective task of finding a solution rather than point fingers at each other. No singular man can come up with solutions to all life’s challenges. We have to assist each other, that’s the very reason God created so many of us. I am kindly putting down my commonsense suggestions below, with the hope that I am not buying a mirror for the blind man.

I have said above commonsense suggestions because we don’t need rocket scientists to prescribe the solution to us. We do not even need to waste money on foreign experts at all, the solution lies amongst us. Of particular importance is that we are all agreed as a nation that Botswana is a dry country, but the Almighty gave us an abundant natural resource of many great rivers, dongas and valleys. And these each and every rainy season collect massive amounts of water and take it all down the way to the great Indian Ocean, where again here the water is stored safely for us for the next rainy season. This is a natural waste, because every time it rains we don’t bother to collect enough water until it is carried back to the Indian ocean. It should be commonsense to all by now that it takes on average a nine month cycle for us to receive rain annually.

Much as Botswana experiences erratic annual rainfall, I still believe with well-planned water harvesting efforts and measures in place, we can still collect enough water to be self-sufficient. My suggestions below shall attempt to cover a number of rain water harvesting ideas which are very affordable to all.

Starting with households, every house with a roof on is a rain water harvesting facility. If you just stand by your house on any rainy day, you will watch the massive amounts of very clean rain water collected by your house roof drip down the side slopes or gutters channelling this water into the storm water collection trenches which in turn take this water right into the bush. What a natural waste? I hereby suggest therefore that authorities should hasten water harvesting efforts by coming up with policies that will make it mandatory for all our building plans to incorporate rain water harvest conservancy tanks. This should start with all government buildings old and new. It should be mandatory for all households to collect their own share of rain water every rainy season. Factories and commercial buildings should have underground rain water collection tanks in their parking lots. This should be made standard practice and if all individual households collected say 10,000lts each per rainy season, and factories and other commercial buildings collected on average 50,000lts to 100,000lts we could sustain ourselves in times of severe scarcities like we are currently experiencing.

My second suggestion is for authorities to direct that all storm rain water drainage especially in towns and cities, be channelled to a special conservancy area. In Gaborone, it is just commonsense that this water should be directed for storage into the Gaborone Dam. Since most of the storm water drainage systems in Gaborone channel the water into Segoditshane River, why not divert this river to Gaborone Dam to increase catchment levels ? Every rainy season, our buildings in towns collect millions of litres of rain water which is all channelled to the bush by the storm rain water drainage system. Yet we are a generally dry country with erratic rainfall, God created man master of nature and natural resources, but the worst enemy of man is his creative abilities. And without being creative, man will even forget to till the land. Creativity relates to creating something that has never been there, it is the only area we can freely explore in order to find solutions to our challenges. And a situation such as ours requires a creation of extra-ordinary measures of monumental significance. Gaborone city gets flooded every rainy season, and we are always pre-occupied and worried about channelling this flood water away into the bush or where-ever, and thereafter complain that Gaborone Dam does not have enough water catchment area. The true picture is that the great city of Gaborone with its vast buildings collects and harvests enough rain water to fill the dam many times. We just have to change our attitudes and modus operandi. We are now even talking about recycling sewage water, yet clean rain water comes and goes away every rainy season. What a waste of such a valuable natural resource?

My third suggestion concerns our villages, cattle posts, intergrated farms and ploughing fields. In order to sustain poverty eradication programmes like back-yard gardening, rearing of small stock, bee keeping, piggery,chickens, car wash and brick moulding projects, the most appropriate way is to sink rain water harvest burrow pits in every village. The villagers themselves will assist in allocating plots for such burrow pits. And I propose a plot not less than 4,000 square metres which should be sunk not less than 20 metres deep. Four of these per village will store enough clean rain water to last till the next rainy season. Once these burrow pits have been sunk in our villages, they should then be handed over to Village Development Committees (VDCs) for proper management, fencing and safe keeping, and all villagers should have the rights to benefit from this water the way they please.

For those doubting the viability of such measures, they just have to recall some notable burrow pits along our national roads, more especially one after Mahalapye on way to Francistown, another at Radisele also along Francistown highway, and last ones at Serule and Sese Gate, these very shallow burrow pits usually hold rain water almost up to the next rainy season. Why not deliberately undertake such long term solution measures? The costs of such undertakings is nothing compared to the great suffering people are subjected to for lack of water, and the benefits derived from such facilities once they fill up with rain water, by far outweigh the costs. All villagers will ululate, rejoice and put this water into good productive use.

My last suggestion is for us as a nation to start thinking of constructing the world’s biggest man made lake. Let me start by giving an example about Europe, the last dams in Europe were constructed more than 500 years ago, but these were massive dams meant to sustain their citizens enough even for any future population growths. They planned ahead focusing on the future and not the present, they knew their populations would balloon, that they would need water for massive development of their heavy infrastructure, they knew without enough water, life would be difficult for their citizens, and made it easy by coming up with such massive national facilities that would accommodate all their future needs. Hence my appeal that we should as a matter of urgency start thinking about provision of water for a population of more than 20 million Batswana in the next 100 years to come. We should not rejoice in wasting money by investing in short term life facilities as if we know exactly when life on earth shall come to an end. Or we simply don’t care what happens once we are gone. Mankind including Batswana, shall exist for another one million years to come and more, that’s long after all of us present today shall be gone, we must leave our indelible mark.

I propose therefore that we dedicate as a nation, enough land for the world’s largest man- made lake. This lake shall be constructed by all Batswana as a national symbol of unity and oneness. The main concept of my proposal is for government to designate a large chunk of land say 100km x 100km or mearly 10,000 square kilometers or 1 million square meters, and this land to be dug up 600 meters deep and all the soil removed and carefully dumped somewhere for future use.

This chunk of land must be somewhere near a great river. Once the land has been sunk and prepared to our desires, then a tunnel should be constructed directing the river to the big pit. Just one rainy season is enough for a massive river like Shashi or Tati to fill up this huge reservoir, and trapped in it shall be massive amounts of water almost six billion cubic meters that should be enough to sustain the whole nation for all our future needs for the next 100 years and beyond. Once the water pit is full, seal the tunnel along the river and let the river continue its normal course. It should be much easier to open up again in case more water infill is be needed in future. The advantages of such a massive national water resource shall be elaborated further below.

The idea of the above mentioned project is informed by the fact that even with the current dams that we have constructed, we still need more water than we have. Our demand far exceeds supply and in a such situation, you don’t need to be an economist to know that when demand exceeds supply, concerted efforts and measures must be channelled towards increasing supply. Currently, water authorities are selling water instead of selling the water delivery service. That is why we still receive huge water bills even when the pipes are dry. This simply means that if Water Utilities Corporation were to make enough sales to accomplish their desired profit margins by selling water say to Gaborone city and its surroundings, they would then not bother about other parts of the country, because after all they are making enough money, and this informs the Corporation’s unreasonable pricing structure. The main responsibility of a responsible water corporation is to deliver water to the consumer, and control wastage rather than building dams. And the dams must be large storage facilities rather than piecemeal projects that we continue to construct, a true story of penny wise pound foolish. Batswana, let us use our diamonds money very carefully and wisely. While diamonds are not forever, water is forever and shall always be in demand. As for diamonds, once our wealth has depleted, consumers will either go somewhere else or change to other similar products like platinum, silver, gold, copper and so forth. There is no alternative to water, and this is the unfortunate natural truth.

Advantages of such a massive undertaking are abound. Firstly, the construction phase of this project might take four to five years, in the process creating jobs for more than 200,000 people. And after construction, with the project fully completed, might create viable and sustainable continuous employment opportunities for thousands more through various other productive investments like tourism and agriculture. This massive amount of water, the world’s biggest man-made lake, will on its own be a sure source of tourists attraction.

This lake shall be a catchment area for a wide variety of wild animals and bird life, and for fish. Hotels and lodges will spring along the 400 kilometer perimeter of the lake. Many activities like canoeing and boat sports, surfing, tourists cruises, will take place. Many small agricultural holdings will spring around the lake and the use of this water should not be under any restrictions at all. Individuals should then be allowed to draw this water with whatever means in accordance to their needs and capabilities.

This water shall be enough for us to construct a big enough hydro power station to generate electricity for our needs. This is the only time we shall seek outside expertise for the construction of our hydro power station facility. My suggestions are put forward at absolutely no costs, its a completely free of charge patriotic service, while outside experts shall carry out their feasibility studies, arrive at the same or slightly modified conclusion and charge us millions of pula.

The last most important advantage of the mammoth lake project is that it will also enable our defence forces, the Botswana Defence Force to start up a small navy unit which shall take base at the lake. The total area of this lake at 10,000 square kilometers and depth at 600 meters is enough even to introduce a medium size submarine ship. Our forces will gain wide experience to undertake deep water humanitarian missions for both local, regional and international countries in the future. I know very well such ideas carry weight only when coming from well-known big people, but please accept that any ordinary person can counsel wise men.

While we pray for rain annually, when it comes, we do nothing to collect and harvest enough, we are otherwise fooling ourselves. The only natural place where God keeps water safely for us is in the seas, oceans, natural lakes, swamps, trees, mountains, rivers, and underground. The rest he leaves it to us to think and apply our creative minds, and does not have control over how much water we want to catch and harvest for our own needs and survival. I find it, therefore, rather not honest nor serious enough to pray for rain annually when we let it flow back to the oceans without bothering to collect and harvest enough for our consumption.

Thank you very much fellow compatriots, and I hope that my article is not like buying a mirror gift for a blind person. It’s of absolute no use doing so.

Fidelis Mafide Ncube*


*Fidelis Mafide Ncube is an entrepreneur based at Nkoyaphiri, Mogoditshane.

He writes in his own private capacity and views expressed above are not patented. They can be used by anybody to address water shortage challenges without crediting him.

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