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People and the River



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Access to Water  

Water is a fundamental requirement for life and well-being. Consequently, human settlements traditionally develop close to a source of water.

Children collecting water from a protected water point in Huambo Province, Angola.
Source: Tump 2006
( click to enlarge )

Safe Water and Poverty Alleviation

As water is such a critical requirement for life, improving access to safe potable water is a key element for human development and poverty alleviation. According to United Nations (UN) standards, access to safe water is measured by the proportion of the population with access to an adequate amount of safe drinking water located within a convenient distance from the user’s dwelling (WHO/UNICEF 2008).

The Drinking Water Ladder

Drinking water supply can be broken down into three categories, illustrated in the form of a "drinking water ladder". The category "improved drinking water sources" includes sources that, by nature of their construction or through active intervention, are protected from outside contamination, particularly from faecal matter. These include piped water in a dwelling, plot or yard, and other improved sources. "Unimproved sources" make up the bottom rung of the ladder. This categorisation not only includes water quality as classifying criterion but also geographic and economic accessibility.

  • Unimproved drinking water sources - unprotected dug well, unprotected spring, cart with small tank/drum, tanker truck, and surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channels), bottled water.
  • Improved drinking water sources other than piped water - public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection; and
  • Water piped into a dwelling, plot or yard - piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard;
Source: adpated from WHO/UNICEF 2010

Water and the “Cycle of Poverty”

Individuals and communities exposed to poverty often live in areas or conditions with limited or no access to safe water (and with poor / no sanitation facilities) leading to increased health risks. If poor people suffer from water and sanitation related diseases - such as cholera, chronic diarrhoea, etc. - it is difficult for them to get and maintain a job or produce their own food – a situation that, in turn, increases poverty. This combined with numerous other factors (such as malnutrition, limited/no access to education and transport, etc.) leads to the so called “cycle of poverty” which makes it difficult for people to break out of the conditions of poverty to improve their well-being.

Water Collection: A Gender Issue

A study conducted by WHO/UNICEF (2008) found that when people are required to travel more than 30 minutes on a single water-hauling trip, they are more likely to compromise their daily water consumption, carrying less water than the household requires for basic needs (drinking water, food preparation and personal hygiene). When drinking water is not readily available, women are more than twice as likely as men to shoulder the burden of collecting and hauling drinking water from a remote location.

Women and children are often in charge of collecting water for their households.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2010
( click to enlarge )

Access to Water in the Namibian Part of the Kunene Basin

Not many people inhabit the Namibian section of the Kunene River basin. Groundwater is scarce due to low rainfall and rocky terrain, so that access to fresh water is not always easy. People in the Namibian part of the Kunene basin obtain their water from from:

  • Surface water sources (the river and springs); and
  • Groundwater sources (hand-dug wells and boreholes).

The perennial Kunene River, carrying surface water throughout the year, is a major source of water for local Himba communities, their livestock, wildlife and some tourist establishments. The people draw their water directly from the river and there are no larger water supply schemes abstracting water. Springs are an additional important water source and hand-dug wells are built when shallow groundwater is available. The water in hand-dug wells is usually not potable and is only safe for people to drink when it is boiled. Water remains cleaner when the well is protected with a fence, preventing livestock from dirtying the well, and a well-fitting cover. Boreholes are normally located in areas where there is sufficient availability of good quality groundwater and there are settlements nearby. Boreholes may stop providing (good quality) water if the pumping of water is greater than the recharge rate of the aquifer or when the pump equipment has not been maintained.

Calueque-Oshakati Transfer Scheme: When discussing access to potable water along the Kunene, the demands of the population in the adjacent Cuvelai basin must be considered. This area is dependent on the Kunene River for its water supply, with water drawn from the river at Calueque in Angola. Kunene water is diverted into an open canal and channelled across the border into the Cuvelai basin. There, the water is treated in treatment plants in the larger towns and potable water is piped through an extensive network of primary, secondary and tertiary pipelines throughout the central Cuvelai basin. For further information on this inter-basin transfer see sections on Bulk Transfer Schemes and Domestic Water Use in the Resource Management theme.

For more information on access to (potable) water in Namibia, Angola and the Kunene basin, proceed to:

Sources: DRF 1999, IWRM Plan Joint Venture Namibia 2010 and DRF 1994.

Improved Drinking Water Supply

The governments of the two Kunene basin states have made progress towards increasing access to improved drinking water sources. Namibia has almost universal coverage in urban areas and has significantly increased rural access to safe water in the last 20 years. Angola has also made advances in urban areas; however access to improved drinking water in rural areas has declined slightly.

More information on the challenge to keep drinking water clean from human waste and the pre-request of improved sanitation and hygiene for human health is provided here.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View a historical timeline of the Kunene basin countries, including water agreements & infrastructure

Video scenes about the limited access to water of the San in Kunene Province